The Donkey Sanctuary
Story and Images Submitted by Jacinta O'Connor
On January 17th I heard news of a foal heading our way to the Veterinary Hospital of the Donkey Sanctuary. The foal mother had died shortly after giving birth and the owners were looking for help rearing the five day old colt foal. Our dedicated driver Eugene had gone to collect the young animal, accompanied by Brian, the supervisor of our Isolation Unit, to feed Donny on the long road back to Liscarrol. They arrived with us at 8 o’clock in the evening and we had our foal intensive care unit ready for new occupation. Donny had travelled well, looked perky enough but was of course tired from the travel.
Donny was very likely about a month premature, his ears were floppy and I noticed that he displayed slightly strange behaviour. Foals that go through a difficult birth can often have a period that they don’t get enough oxygen to the brain and this can lead to a mild and transient form of brain damage. There are several terms for this syndrome and one of those is neonatal maladjustment syndrome. In horse lay terms those foals are called ‘barkers’ or ‘dummy’ foals. Donny showed this behaviour especially after feeding him his bottle of milk, he dosed off, so to say, and seemed less aware of what was going on around him, swayed his head and wandered about a bit aimlessly. This worried me, together with the fact that it was quite unlikely that Donny got enough antibodies from his mother from the colostrum or beestings when he was born.
Equine foals come to this world without an active immune system and they need to drink the mother’s milk within 24 hours after birth to get the antibodies they need to protect them against diseases. This was unlikely to have happened and we needed to act on this as soon as possible.We selected an older gelding donkey named Bart from the herd and took about a litre of blood from him to make blood plasma that we then gave, in an intravenous drip, to Donny. This should give him plenty of antibodies against diseases and a good head start in life. We repeated this a day later with a litre of hyper-immune plasma provided to us by a colleague in Kildare.
In the mean time all our staff has been volunteering to help giving Donny his bottle of milk, every two hours, around the clock, headed by Paddy and Eileen Barret; you can’t beat 40 years of experience in rearing orphaned foals! Donny has had a very good appetite from the start, despite his problems and has shown to be a real fighter. The first two weeks Donny gained 8 kilograms in weight, his ears have straightened and he is making attempts to bray and produces a squeaky noise when you come in to feed him!
The Veterinary Department and all the staff here in Liscarrol have been delighted with all the support from the public (going through hard times themselves!) and we will keep you updated about his progress in the future!
Pieter J. den Boon DVM, MVSc
This photo of Donny on the drip was taken 20th January 2011, and the top photo, where he is looking a lot brighter, was taken 25th January.