Betty the Donkey is a case in hand for what can go wrong when buying an animal unseen. For those of you kind folk who have visited us for walks with the Dinky Donkeys, you will have met half-brothers Maverick & Goose who have now been with us for 15 months. Towards autumn last year we noticed that Maverick’s behaviour was becoming more boisterous, with some instances of little tantrums when not getting his own way and in one instance throwing himself on his back with his panniers on, legs akimbo, rolling his eyes at us then eating with his head stretched to one side. In short, he had clearly become a toddler-teenager at the age of 18 months old.
After much helpful advice from their devoted breeder Sarah, we decided to acquire an older Jenny who should become the matriarch and pop Maverick back in line with a stern glance. We also wanted to be able to give Maverick some time off to simply grow up!
Betty was advertised in late February through a Facebook group. She looked exactly what we were after being 5 years old, shown with a small child riding her and described as being quiet and ready to work. Her owners had many endorsements from former purchasers and have an established business hiring out donkeys for village fete donkey derbies & beach rides. We bought her. They arranged to delivered her. We were saddened to see her condition on arrival. The long and the short of it is that they offered immediately to take her back and admitted they’d had only had her 5 months rather than bred her, and her background was vague. We could see she was in discomfort and in obvious neglect so there was no way we could send her back, and began the ongoing process of unravelling her ailments.
Those of you who have met Betty have been charmed by her gentle sweet nature, and although donkeys are stoic beings, she has been the model of patience as we have tackled trying to make her well. So here’s what we’ve discovered:
1) HOOVES. This is the 1st thing we noticed on Betty’s arrival. Healthy hooves come from good nutrition and good environment – donkeys are desert animals and have incredibly efficient hind guts that are designed to extract nourishment from scrubby vegetation, and are also unused to standing in wet or muddy areas. Betty’s hooves were misshapen with swirly ridges and she was very unhappy at having her legs handled.
We are fortunate to have a great local farrier Richard Howell, who is an ex-army farrier. He specialises in horses but does work for the local donkey sanctuary and instantly diagnosed her to have “seedy toe” in three hooves, which is a fungal infection that travels within the white line just inside the hoof wall and undermines hoof structure. Trimming, then application of hydrogen peroxide followed by frequent application of a fungal barrier spray designed for sheep have all contributed to vast improvement. Three months on and one hoof is now better, with two still undergoing treatment but improving. As the hoof takes about a year to grow in full, we hope that Betty will have happy hooves by next spring.
2) SKIN. It is fairly normal for furry animals to attract parasites, particularly through winter when spending a lot of time in the barn. Poor Betty had a heavy burden of beasties, but after several treatments with Deosect, Louse Powder and finally Spot-On, with a herbal shampoo in between, her coat is now regrowing and looking far better. There was a phase of patchy hair loss, aided by crows in the field taking nesting materials literally from her back, but our vet believes this was beneficial and she certainly didn’t seem to mind. There is also a high risk of donkeys developing Rain Scald which is a fungal skin condition if being perpetually wet as they are not waterproof, having no oil in their coats. Luckily, this was not one of Betty’s ailments!
3) WEE. From the first day that Betty arrived, we noticed that she was tending to do short small wees. We contacted her former owner to ask whether they had noticed this and whether it was possibly a urinary tract infection (UTI) as these can be common in donkeys and would present in this way. The previous owners replied that it sounded like she was “in season”. Since Honddu Vets were due anyway the following week for her jabs (of course there was no record of any inoculations), we monitored her and as she had been passing a little clotted blood, a UTI was suspected and antibiotics given. There was a change with her peeing more steadily and clear, but then we observed more blood periodically and the vet was called again. At this stage, we also noticed changes to her abdomen shape so blood & wee samples were taken to check for infection….and also for pregnancy. Another few weeks passed while this all happened in which time we have been washing down her back legs with surgical scrub, and applying Sudocrem as a barrier as the wee was causing very sore skin.
Last week, after another visit from the vets and further investigation under sedation, we have a diagnosis. Poor Betty has a bladder stone the size of a duck egg. Bladder stones are quite rare in donkeys, and even more so in female donkeys. They are formed usually either as a result of insufficient drinking, or can also be caused as a result of having had a UTI.
Betty is booked in for surgery this coming Wednesday at Cotts Equine Hospital in Narberth, where they intend to try to break up the stone so it can be passed. There was hope that it might have been comprised of a material like calcium that can sometimes be dissolved without surgery, but sadly this is not possible in this case. They intend to perform this under heavy sedation so we hope she will be home the same day, but if any issues she will kept in for observation. This leads us to……
Very sadly, we have had to update this part of the blog from Betty expecting a foal, to the tragic news that Betty unexpectedly gave birth this morning but the foal didn’t survive. We have no way of knowing whether it was slightly premature or whether it had been affected by her other health issues and are very sad that this has happened.
Betty is doing OK although the vets were called out to check whether she had any retained placenta which can be very serious in equines, and indeed she did so will be having treatments for the next couple of days and we are waiting to hear whether her planned operation for the bladder stone removal will still go ahead on Wednesday.
She seemed fairly bright in herself and will be monitored. The boys seem unaffected but kindly towards Betty and at least unlike humans she will be just getting back on with the business of being a donkey.
Betty underwent her operation and after a couple of setbacks with minor infections and antibiotics, she is doing really well and we hope we are now through the worst of her health issues.
The surgeon removed a bladder stone that was about 18cm across and roughly the size of her bladder. He had never seen a bladder stone that large even in horses let alone a small standard donkey, and estimated that it had been growing for 1 to 2 years but would have been causing her a lot of pain & discomfort.
She is finally now happy cantering around the field and is growing in confidence daily. Lovely Betty.