Saturday, December 31, 2016

The Holiday Weekend Curse

It started out as a totally normal, boring morning.  I headed out to feed the herd and instead of three happy donkeys and a happy horse, I found two happy donkeys, a horse and one very unhappy Ben.

I love my donkeys, I really do, but sometimes, I think they might be the death of me.

I found Ben standing against the wall in the barn, shivering uncontrollably, unwilling to move and in clear distress.

Emergency protocol: Look the animal over from head to tail, noting everything, but not focusing on anything.  What I see in a ten-second assessment is:

  • Ben is alert and aware, but in clear distress
  • respiration is fast, but not noticeably labored
  • hard shivering
  • tension/pain throughout the body
  • subtle, but constant shifting of weight 
  • unwillingness to move  
  • reapeatedly curling his upper lip (flehman response)    
  • no signs of rolling or gut pain
Immediate emergency assessment:  I have an animal who is not about to drop dead, but is in clear distress and needs help.
  • Step 1:  Grab the first blanket-like object I can reach and toss it over Ben to help him get warm (in this case, it was Emma's old blanket.  MUCH too small for Ben, but better than nothing)
  • Step 2:  Get a bale of hay for the rest of the herd and feed them away from Ben in order to distract them and get them safely out of the way.  
  • Step 3:  Take Ben's temperature and do a more thorough hands-on inspection
  • Step 4: Get the heavy-weight turnout blanket that I have had in storage for many years (the one I was just thinking about finally donating to someone - good thing I have trouble throwing things out) and get it on Ben 
  • Step 5: there are no signs of colic or choke so offer Ben hay, which he dives into hungrily
  • Step 6: call the vet
My initial diagnosis is that Ben was "tying up".  Most of the symptoms fit, but it is not something I would ever expect to see in a quiet, laid-back donkey.  It is usually seen in Thoroughbreds or Quarter Horses who are in heavy work.  

After a lengthy discussion with the vet, the three most likely diagnosis are:
  1. Tying up - Ben does not fit the profile, but most of the symptoms fit.  An electrolyte imbalance caused by dehydration because Ben is absurdly fussy about his water could, maybe, be enough to cause him to tie up.  I did make some minor changes to the water trough this week, which I thought Ben was OK with as I saw him drinking.  However, this is a donkey who will not drink out of the purple bucket, but will drink the same water out of a blue bucket.  He will not drink ice cold water or warm water, it has to be tepid.  Also, I did run out of his vitamins for three days because Christmas messed up the shipment.  The combination could, maybe, be enough to create an electrolyte imbalance serious enough to cause muscle spasms.
  2. Laminitis - this is always a major concern for donkeys and can occur as a secondary response to another problem.  Ben is on a hay only, low sugar diet and there have been no changes to his feed.  Sudden onset of laminitis in all four feet is not likely.
  3. Acute Lyme disease.  A real possibility even though Ben is 2/3 through a Lyme vaccine protocol.
If this turns out to be Lyme, then I think the only appropriate response is to drop a nuclear warhead on this whole county. 

As treatment, I gave Ben a very mushy mash made of hay pellets and warm water with two teaspoons of salt in it.  This should help raise his sodium levels and increase his desire to drink.  He will be getting electrolytes for several days and will be getting salt and magnesium in his feed every day from here on.  He got a big dose of anti-inflammatory pain-killer and will continue to get them for the next few days and he is now sporting on overly large green blanket.   

By evening, he was showing improvement and was willing to go out and walk around on his own for a bit.  Hopefully, he will continue to improve and I won't need any help because getting a vet out here on a holiday weekend.....not likely.  

I hate holidays.


  1. Yikes. How scary. :-(
    But I love your calm method of assessment and treatment. Thanks for sharing this info. I had never heard of "tying up"!
    How old is Ben? He looks so cozy in that blanket. Two of my three donkeys would run for the hills if I tried to blanket them - something I should probably start working on before it's an emergency situation.
    I'll be thinking good thoughts for your Ben.

    1. Ben is in the 12-14 age range and I am very grateful that he will let me toss just about anything at him:).

  2. Oh my - why do these things always happen at the most inconvenient times?! Irish is like Ben with the drinking (although he has no colour preference that I've identified). This means that I play games with the heated buckets so that it's at the right temp. Usually I turn them on at supper and turn off at night so that the water is warm enough to not freeze. Will the donkeys use a salt/mineral block? I can't get Irish to touch one. I saw that in the states there are carrot flavoured ones. But now I'm rambling, so sorry. :)
    I hope that Ben continues to improve.

    1. They have access to loose white salt at all times and I feed a mineral/vitamin supplement that is balanced to their hay. I usually add a teaspoon of salt to their feed everyday in the winter. Most horses are always a bit deficient in sodium and the salt helps correct that and keeps them drinking. It's generally a cheap, easy way to help prevent impaction colic.

  3. I love your blog, even when it is something scary and serious like this.
    At least he's not ruining your New Year's plans - as I bet you don't have any late night fancy parties in your calendar :) Here's hoping you'll have a cozy and uneventful evening in the barn.

  4. Oh my gosh, if it isn't one thing....I hope he pulls through fine. I love donkeys...from afar!

  5. Best wishes for a speedy recovery for Ben and happy new year to all!

  6. My goodness but you are wise about your animals and their problems. Thankfully.

  7. So glad that he is improving! I think the blanket looks great on him...good thing you still had it.

  8. Aw, Ben!! I'm high maintainance about my water too and have suffered dehydration as a result.
    I'm sure you'll get better with such a vigilante Mom to take care of you. I think you're styling that blanket!!

  9. So I'll be worried about Ben all weekend--hope you're able to post an "all's well" soon.

  10. One minute the animals are fine and the next minute is unexpected and scary. Stinkers. I learn something from your blog all the time. I didn't know about "tying up" so something else to add to the assessment bag. Hope Ben continues to feel better. Happy New Year

    1. It is not something I would generally expect to see in donkeys, but they do seem to have a knack for getting in trouble.

  11. Always on a holiday or weekend it seems, but the poor fellow I hope is doing better. So scary. You are so experienced with this and I'm hoping it will all be fine. He is such a sweet boy.
    I can't stand it when they are sick.

  12. Poor Ben :-( I hope he feels better soon!!

  13. I've seen this once with our donkeys and it was a a chill factor. Probably not the same as what you are experiencing though. With 24 hr access to hay the donks seem to be much better at dealing with temperature changes.
    That and tepid fresh water from the heated stock tank along with a place to get out of the wind.
    I sure hope that the blanket cures all!