Welcome to my blog - a diary about living with donkeys, notes about care, my training sessions and the absolute pleasure of donkey companionship.

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Saturday, December 18, 2010

Understanding donkey discomfort

Whenever a donkey is off her feed, it's cause for alarm ... something is wrong!  Nothing gives me a chill, makes my stomach churn or my heart flutter more than seeing a donkey standing in front of a pile of hay or out on pasture and not eating.  I've seen numerous variations of this by now - one had fatal consequences, like when I lost my mini Annie 5 years ago.  But sometimes a "wait and see" approach is better than jumping in with a vial full of Banamine.

It's really really important to know your animals and what's"normal" for each one.  For example, Deenah is prone to getting food caught in her throat or esophagus.  As an older donkey, she is the one most likely to be off her feed.  This has happened twice in the last two weeks.  Both times I noticed that she was just standing there, kind of hanging her head and when offered hay, she wouldn't eat.

I needed to figure out if it was her throat or her belly giving her trouble - an owner could make serious mistakes by jumping to conclusions.  As donkeys are very stoic by nature, it can be hard to understand what they are feeling.  So I watch.

In the past, I have phoned the vet in alarm right away and the answer has always been "give her Banamine."  Banamine is an anti-inflammatory analgesic drug most often used to reduce the pain associated with colic.

In Deenah's case though, because she has suspected gastric ulcers, I would only use it in an emergency and never just as a routine response.

Equine are not able to regurgitate (or throw up) so something unpleasant in the gut has to pass the other way but by the time a full episode of colic is underway, that might not be possible.  A vet will often pass a nasal-gastric tube through the nostril and into the stomach and pour water and mineral oil through the tube to flush out any impaction.  It's not pleasant but sometimes necessary.

Well anyway, as I carefully observed Deenah yesterday it seemed to me that the problem was not her gut (thank goodness!) but something stuck in her throat, or she had eaten something bitter.  Her response to this after  initially standing and looking absolutely glum, is to develop lots of saliva to lubricate her throat and get rid of the problem.  So she starts to drool and great bubbles of spit appear. Coughing usually follows. When I see this, I am actually relieved!  I gently massage her throat on either side in case there's a wad of something that I can help loosen - she will tell me if I am helping or not and I never force her.

More than you wanted to know?   Sorry but it's so important to understand this! 

Drooling and salivating is the response to having eaten something toxic and it's an equine's way of "ejecting" the problem or at least minimizing its effect.  I've never seen it as a response to colic although a poisonous plant could cause a donkey to colic.

Dorica sampled a few plants when she first arrived that were not typical donkey fare.  Once she ate some daffodil leaves and basically shut down!  No drooling but a belly ache for a few hours.  Another time, she ate red elderberry and I found her standing in a pool of drool.

In any case, it's important to know your animals and also to know the plants that might be toxic or poisonous to them.  Be observant!

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