Category Archives: Medical

Donkeys DO suffer laminitis and founder. Getting them into the barn is no fun, either…

Don’t let anyone tell you that donkeys don’t suffer laminitis or founder. I’ve herd that falsity over and over.

Well, let me tell you, it isn’t true.  I know this because Norma, my donkey, has laminitis right now.  Very serious stuff.  Nothing to take lightly.


Yup.  Sure, donkeys are not prone to the same leg and foot problems that plague horse.  But, given incorrect foods (too many sweets), donkeys can and do succumb to laminitis and founder.

My curly haired Norma, after the rain...


I didn’t.  Well, maybe I did, indirectly, but I wasn’t there at the time.  You see, five years ago, I left Grass Valley for two years.   I could only take 5 of my horses with me so I needed to temporarily place Norma and the ponies… I knew my neighbor coveted Norma and only Norma.  But since they were a trio, she offered to take all three.  I was thrilled because this is the neighbor that already brought two horses into their 40s and presently had 9 cows in their upper teens.  I knew Sonja would take extra special care of my three.

What I didn’t consider in this fostering was that Sonja loves to feed — especially treats.  Since Sonja’s animals are very large, this ‘need to feed’ was no issue.  I mean, 9 – 2000 lbs cows can put it away, if you know what I mean.  But, my Norma, at that time,  weighed only about 400lbs and was as dainty as a teacup.

Norma became Sonja’s favorite (of course!).  She was brought into a lovely stall at dusk and received the full 4-Star treatment with special love, affection and a bucket of apples/carrots/donkey treats nightly.  Norma became a bit portly and then … suffered laminitis.

It was at that precise laminitis moment that I returned to Grass Valley.  Sonja called me in a panic to bring Norma and the ponies back to the ranch.  Norma was lame and I was flabbergasted.

A donkey, lame?  How could this be?

Sonja told me that the vet told her to quit the sweets and she would be fine…

She came back to me a bit portly. My farrier calls her, "Enorma".


Norma was willing to walk home to the ranch, very tenderly.  She wobbled like the largess donkey she had become and I was a bit frantic.  I had no idea how long this had been going on or if there had been any founder.  Immediately, I called out the vet and his Xray machine.

Luckily, no rotation.  We gave her some Bute, put her in a heavily bedded stall and waited.  Within a week, she was fine.


So, for the last three years, Norma has slimmed a bit (those last 50lbs are hard for a poor donkey to lose!) and she lives in a mostly barren pen that she and the ponies scrounge around, eating anything that dares peep its little green head.

About once a week, I let all three out to romp around the irrigated front lawns and other areas, just to exercise themselves and their little pony/donkey minds.  They love it!  And, for three years, no problems.

I didn't see the signs...


Except, there was a problem today…  I had let them out two days ago and the next morning, Norma was sore.  I actually didn’t connect the dots…  I cleaned out her hoof (felt no heat) and thought she might have been playing too rough with the boys. Since there was no heat and no swelling, I thought it was her shoulder.  It never occurred to me that the grass had gotten to her.

Yes, it had been raining this week and the grass had grown in a powerful, sugary burst.  I should have realized that it was more potent right now.  But still, they weren’t out on the grass for that long…  I missed the ‘green grass = trouble’  idea completely.

Today, she was worse.  So much worse that I knew it wasn’t her shoulder.  Either she had an abscess or laminitis.  Doh.  I felt so stoopid.


OY.  Trying to get Norma to the barn was a nightmare for her and for me.  Poor thing.  She wanted nothing to do with moving towards the barn and everything to do with eating more grass.  It went something like this:

You want me to do what??!

Me:  Norma, we need to go to the barn so I can take care of you.

N:  I’m fine.

Me:  No, you are limping and I need to help you now before it gets worse.

N:  Look.  I’m fine.  (standing upright and square)

Me:  No, you’re faking it.  C’mon.

N:  No.

Me:  Norrrrmaaaa, c’mon to the barn (in my singsongy voice)

N:  Nnnnoo (mocking me).

Me:  C’mon, I’ll give you a treat.

N:  There’s lovely gren grass all around.  Why would I go to the barn, silly human?

Me:  Puleeze.

N:  Uh.  No.

Me: I’m insulted.  I’m hurt (trying to lay the guilt trip on her) and I love you and let Mom help you.

N:  Ha! Nice try!  Nope.

Me:  (pulling like mad)  Come!  NOW!

N:  (digging in her heels)  The fact that you are puuuullling so hard AND YELLING makes me know that coming with you is a bad idea.  NO.

Have you ever tried to move a donkey that didn’t want to move?  Useless effort.


(I’m not making light of this.  I know laminitis is a solemn illness.  But, getting her to the barn was kinda funny…)

So, I had the great idea to let the ponies out and then rattle some grain so they’d follow me to the barn and she would follow them.  As I went to the barn to get the grain, Norma hobbled up, quite well, to where the ponies were eating grass and proceeded to join them.

Seeing her nibble on more green grass, I went berzerk.  NOOOOOOOOOOOO!  I went charging up the hill with my grain spilling everywhere… NOOOOOO.  All three scattered like Mom had just turned into a beast with three heads, which I had…

Both the ponies ran to the barn.  Yay!  I let them in.  Perfect!  Mission accomplished… except, not really.  Norma held fast, back out on the green grass.  She wasn’t falling for it.  (Donkeys ARE smarter than horses in many ways…)

Me:  Lookey, Norman, the boys are in the barn having treats (sometimes you have to lie to a donkey…).

N:  Fine.  I don’t care.  I have green grass.  They are stoopid to fall for your tricks.

Me:  Hmmmmm (me rubbing my forehead)   She’s right…

OK, now what do I do?  I have the ponies in the barn, which I don’t want, and Norma is outside the barn which I don’t want either.  I decided to drive Norma to the barn.  I threw some pellets to the ponies to keep them away from the gate (instead of putting them in the stall right there in front of them… you can see where this is going…).

Gently, I carefully walked behind her.  Since she knew exactly what I wanted the entire time, she sighed deeply, OH ALRIGHT,  and hobbled down to the barn.  However,  silly me, not planning this well, had not left the barn gate open and Norma took a quick veer left and ran/gymped back up the hill.

Sheesh.  I should fire myself.

Now I was really frustrated because I didn’t want her to irritate that foot (or the other one) any more by taking one more step than needed.   So, I gently drove her back to the barn and cornered her at the gateway.  Good idea.  Bad execution.  The ponies had finished the pellets and they were now both at the gate, blocking Norma’s entrance.  HEY, LET US OUT TO EAT GREEN GRASS.

Bad plan.

So, I left Norma to her own devices and muscled my way into the barn (past pony patrol) and put them both in a stall – like I should have in the first place.  When I returned to get Norma, all I could see was her donkey patootey.  Once again, I ran in front of her and drove her into the barn. OH NOW JUST COOL YOUR JETS… I KNOW WHAT YOU WANT.  SHEESH.  STOP ALREADY.

Phew.  She was in!  But, so were the ponies…

After a Keystone Cop kinda shuffle, I got the ponies out and Norma settled.

Getting a donkey to go anywhere she deosn’t want to go is an incredible feat of trickery and bribe.  Even when she loves you.


At this point, we are both already exhausted.  But, I knew Norma needed pain relief, swelling relief (although I saw no swelling and felt no heat) and stress relief.  So, I gave her some apple flavored bute and proceeded to create cushy hoof pads for her night in the barn.

My left over blue foam cushy pad with the outline of her hooves.

You see, I’m fairly familiar with laminitis woes since my mare suffered with pregnancy laminitis during her last quad-mester.  I still had all the tools.  Blue foam, vet wrap and boots.  Unfortunately, all my boots were horse-sized, not the dainty size I needed.  But, I made do.


(This is what my vet had me do whenever my mare got worse and before he could arrive.)

First, I put Norma’s bad foot on the foam and drew a line around it.  I cut it out and vet wrapped the new cushy pad on her foot so it wouldn’t slide (or so I thought).  Next, I made a cut-out of the good foot based on the bad foot (since she wouldn’t put weight on her bad hoof).  I tried to vet wrap that on but she wouldn’t keep her foot up long enough so the application was not very secure.

It was on there but not on well...

Hmmmm.  I decided to keep the good foot wrapped poorly but secured in a boot.  I had no donkey-sized boots so I used the temporary lightweight trail fix boot that I used on Tess.  It is a flat cut-out with velcro tabs that allow you to “wrap” the hoof.  I did this.  It wasn’t pretty but it worked.

I wrapped the other foot, with the pad, in the flat boot. Not pretty but it did the trick.

I gave her some grass hay and left her for a bit.

Go Away! Leave me in peace, woman!

When I came back, the pad on the bad foot had slipped.  So, I Ninja wrapped it again and it seemed better.


I am hoping that some soft bedding, bute and no green grass will help the laminitis subside.

I Ninja wrapped it and went inside to study...

In the meantime, I’ve been scrambling to learn more about feeds/supplements that might help promote and strengthen the system against laminitis, if there is such a thing.  Or, a supplement that helps the circulation or something like that.  People have given me many ideas that I’ve stored in a folder for future use.  Well, the future is here.  I’m going to order something tonight and I will keep you posted.

For now, I’m sitting on pins and needles, waiting for the morning.  I sure hope she is better.  Laminitis is NOTHING to play with.  And, once it occurs, it can always reoccur.  Even in donkeys.


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Eli, the quadriplegic donkey walks again after Stem-Cell treatment!

Wednesday, November 17th, 2010 | Filed under Medical

Posted: 17 Nov 2010 02:00 AM PST
OMG>  This is amazing and very important for equines and humans!

I’m passing it on exactly as it was written by Denise Steffanus in the Thoroughbred Times on November 15th.

Here is a photos of Eli the donkey in his sling.

Eli, a beloved donkey, in his sling.

And, here is the video link.

Attendants couldn't believe that Eli was up... so they watched the nighttime video cameras and saw this!

I’m so excited that this happened!   And, I’m really excited that something this historic occurred  at Alamo Pintado Equine Medical Center in Los Olivos, California (nearby).  The specialist was from Colorado.  Yay!  You Go, vets, you go!

Here is the story…

Eli the donkey’s recovery from incomplete quadriplegia could be the most important breakthrough in traumatic spinal-cord injuries and for the stem-cell treatment that restored his mobility—a breakthrough that could impact not only equids but all mammals, including humans.

Quadriplegia is considered incomplete if there is lack of mobility yet some sensory or motor function below the affected area.

On May 13, little Eli was inexplicably savaged by his longtime companion Watson, a jack nearly twice his size. During the attack, Watson grabbed Eli by the neck and shook him furiously like a rag doll, which caused severe spinal-cord trauma midway down his cervical spine.

Over the next few days, as Eli’s spinal cord swelled from the trauma, he experienced a rapid progression of weakness in his front end and hindquarters. With Eli’s condition quickly deteriorating, attending veterinarian Steve Goss, D.V.M., recommended that Eli be sent about 30 miles away to Alamo Pintado Equine Medical Center in Los Olivos, California, for specialized treatment. Alamo Pintado’s staff is credited with overcoming nearly insurmountable odds to save the lives of major stakes winners Thorn Song and most recently Global Hunter (Arg).

Eli arrived at Alamo Pintado on May 18, weak and unstable on all four legs.

“We did a normal treatment of [dimethyl sulfoxide], anti-inflammatories, and hyperbaric oxygen therapy, but he was deteriorating very fast right in front of us,” said Doug Herthel, D.V.M., Alamo Pintado’s founder and chief of staff. “So on May 22, Dr. Carter Judy did an MRI, and that gave us the definitive diagnosis.”

Eli suffered severe trauma to the spinal cord and its blood supply, and the resultant swelling caused compression of the cord within the spinal canal. The diagnosis was delivered by veterinary radiologist Travis Saveraid, D.V.M.

Herthel also sought the opinion of Mike Kistler, M.D., in Cortez, Colorado, a senior member of the American Society of Neuroradiology with more than 25 years of experience in human spinal trauma. Kistler also is a horseman who considered a career in veterinary medicine before turning to human neuroradiology.

“In a human, a comparable injury would have been sustained by diving into shallow water, and the majority of those injuries would have a poor prognosis, with paralysis,” Kistler said.

Kistler’s interpretation of the MRI results was that Eli’s spinal cord had suffered significant bruising and circulation damage, and that the prognosis was poor. Kistler speculated that it would be unlikely that Eli’s injury would resolve on its own, even with traditional treatment. Moreover, because an equid’s overall health declines when it cannot stand, he felt Eli most likely would not survive his injury or its complications.

Under the supervision of internal medicine specialist Tania Kozikowski, D.V.M., Eli received intense supportive care, treatment with anti-inflammatories to reduce the swelling in his spinal cord, and 24-hour-a-day nursing. Yet his condition continued to decline rapidly. On May 24, he lay paralyzed in all four limbs and could not lift his head, urinate, or defecate. He had developed pneumonia and was unable to maintain his body temperature, even with supportive care. Eli was on the verge of death.

Untried theory

Herthel is a pioneer in stem-cell therapy. Over the past 15 years, he has treated more than 5,000 horses with good results. But the bulk of these cases have been tendon and ligament injuries, and more recently laminitis and arthritis. He knew of no research to support the use of stem-cell therapy as a treatment for spinal-cord injuries. But, in theory, it made a lot of sense to him.

“The option to use stem cells was based on what we know adult stem cells can do—promote angiogenesis [formation of new blood vessels] and anti-inflammatory action,” Herthel said. “These injuries to the spinal cord created a lack of circulation and blood supply, which would cause cell death. Eventually, you just end up with a sac of fluid where the injured spinal cord used to be. So our goal was to get rid of the inflammation, similar to what we would use corticosteroids for. But more important were the angiogenesis properties of the mesenchymal stem cells and their ability to protect the cells in the spinal cord and promote the growth of new cells. They also inhibit the formation of scar tissue.”

On May 25, Herthel presented Eli’s owner with the option of euthanizing her beloved pet or opting for the experimental stem-cell therapy. She chose to give Eli one last chance.

“We had to do something fairly rapidly, and it was an extreme longshot,” Herthel said. “We had nothing to lose, but, still, we were extremely nervous.”

With the little donkey’s life hanging by a thread, there was no time to harvest and process stem cells from Eli’s bone marrow. So Herthel used donor (allogenic) stem cells derived from the bone marrow of a Thoroughbred racehorse that had been previously harvested and banked. He injected 70-million stem cells into Eli’s spinal canal at a point behind his poll and 20-million stem cells intravenously.

“Mesenchymal stem cells can selectively target injured tissue and promote functional recovery,” Herthel said. “They can be attracted to damaged tissue by chemical signals released from damaged cells.”

Within 48 hours, Eli improved and began to show some movement, even while recumbent. But he had lost significant muscle mass and was extremely weak. Fortunately, Eli never lost the ability to eat, so Herthel’s staff was able to maintain his nutrition as part of his supportive care, while treating his pneumonia with antibiotics.

“Eli’s owner drove 60 miles round trip daily to visit him and to provide lots of carrots, horse cookies, and TLC,” Herthel said.

Steady improvement

On June 1, Eli had improved to the point where he was able to urinate, so his catheter was removed. The next day, he was lowered into Alamo Pintado’s recovery pool via sling, just to get him upright. Unfortunately, he was still not able to stand even with its support.

The first significant indication that Eli was responding to the stem-cell treatment came on June 8, when he was able to stand in his stall with the help of two veterinary technicians.

The effects of the first stem-cell treatment began to decline on June 10, when attendants noted that Eli had begun to weaken and was unable to stand, even with assistance. Herthel said this was not unexpected.

“We know that these stems cells do their work, but they don’t last forever, so we have to retreat several times,” he said. “It seems that after three treatments is when we see the biggest benefit, based on our experience with joint treatments.”

On June 11, Eli received a second treatment of 88-million stem cells from the same Thoroughbred donor, injected into his spinal canal, and 30-million stem cells intravenously. Again, within 48 hours, Eli became strong enough to stand and take a few steps with the help of three assistants. When the effects of the second treatment began to wear off 12 days later, Herthel administered the third and final dose of 100-million stem cells into Eli’s spinal canal and 20-million stem cells intravenously.

On July 2, Eli rolled up on his sternum without assistance for the first time, and on July 28, he was able to bray for the first time since his injury.

But the big moment of celebration came on July 31, when attendants found Eli standing in his stall.

“We couldn’t figure out how he got up,” Herthel said. “So we went back and looked at the [intensive care unit] video, and we saw him get up on his own. It wasn’t pretty, but he got up, and that’s what counts. After that third treatment, he just got better and better, and his muscle mass came back.”

Eli was released to his owner on September 15. He continues to improve on her Santa Barbara-area farm, being turned out during the day to romp in his paddock and housed in his stall at night. Herthel said he expects Eli to enjoy a normal existence, barring unanticipated complications later in his life.

Knowledge gained

Not only has this case opened the door for use of stem-cell therapy in treating traumatic spinal-cord injuries in all species, it has provided important knowledge to further this research. One essential theory that Eli’s case has confirmed is that adult stem cells, even from a donor, do not evoke an adverse reaction.

“Each time we gave the stem cells, we took a sample of Eli’s spinal fluid, and it was normal,” Herthel said. “You would think that giving foreign cells from a horse would cause some kind of inflammatory reaction, especially in the spinal fluid. But each time, Eli’s spinal fluid was normal, and that’s pretty amazing. That’s what makes these adult stem cells so useful.”

Skeptics will claim that anecdotal evidence of the successful treatment of one animal does not prove that stem-cell therapy was responsible for Eli’s cure. Kistler disagrees.

“The fact that Eli recovered after this initial injury over two to three months would indicate that the intervention is what promoted the recovery,” he said. “I think that’s a fair assumption.”

Herthel acknowledged that science cannot be based on a single case study, but he believes that Eli’s story will open the door to further research.

“This case breaks a barrier,” Herthel said. “We’re certainly not going to be afraid to use stem-cell therapy again if we have an animal with spinal-cord damage because we know it’s safe.”

Denise Steffanus is a contributing editor of Thoroughbred Times who writes frequently

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