A Warning About Milkweed!

***PLEASE CHECK YOUR PASTURE FOR TOXIC WEEDS during this drought and please share to avoid this happening to another donkey or horse.

Molly is one of three equines who live at The Branch Ranch. She is loved by all who meet her for her mop head hairdo, her big voice, knock knees and impish behaviour. Molly's stubborn badness and some excellent vet care may have saved her life this summer.

Our pastures on the farm dried out several weeks ago, much earlier than normal due to extreme weather, no snow in winter, no spring rains and intense heat with high winds. Even though the pastures are bare, Molly, Franny and Basil like to nibble on the dusty stubble so we give them access to the pasture behind their shelter and have been feeding them hay since the end of June. They get plenty of hay and their weights are good, which makes this story all the more baffling.

Last Sunday Molly stopped eating and appeared to be starting a colic. Molly is a BIG eater, so refusal of food, even sugar cubes or carrots is reason for great concern. As with all things equine, disaster always strikes on a weekend, but fortunately our vet is accessible by phone message and he immediately called back with some advice.

We followed his instructions: pepto-bismal 2x’s the human dose and Banamine, which he said we could administer orally, thank goodness because giving Molly a needle under normal circumstances is a nightmare. These measures seemed to have some effect but they were short lived. We did a search of the pasture and discovered that someone had been eating MILKWEED! This was more than just caterpillar chewing, there were donkey teeth marks on the 

leaves! Although generally thought to be unpalatable to equines, Milkweed is poisonous and if consumed in large quantities it can cause death within 24 hours. The donkeys are on a small pasture and we have had milkweed in there before but they have never been interested in eating it so this discovery came as a shock to us.

On Tuesday our vet came to the farm and said Molly was definitely colicky. Her heart rate was in the high 40’s, which meant she was in some discomfort from the colic but nothing too serious. We started her on probiotics, Kaopectate, more Banamine and antibiotics. By the next day she was worse so the vet came out again. Her heart rate was over 55, she had not eaten for 4 days, she was lethargic and obviously uncomfortable. Donkeys don’t exhibit colic symptoms in the same way horses do. A horse in colic rolls on the ground frequently and kicks at it’s belly, a donkey is more stoic and the symptoms are more subtle.

After tranquilizing her, the vet gave her a rectal exam, IV fluids and put a tube down her nose in order to pour warm water into her stomach. He said she was very ill, most likely the colic involved a torsion of the lower intestine overtop of a ligament resulting in a compression of the spleen and a blockage in the gut… he gave her a 50/50 chance of survival. He instructed us to walk her up and down steep hills to encourage the twisting to flip back into place. We were up walking with her every hour overnight but by the next day her heart rate was over 60. One again the vet arrived and performed the same procedures as the day before, the prognosis was still grim. This time the vet gave her a shot of adrenaline, in the hope that it would help to release the intestinal twisting. We let her out of her paddock to wander around the backyard and she showed some interest in nibbling on a few blades of grass! For the next 24 hours we watched her closely and monitored her heart rate and slowly we started to see some signs of improvement. We let her eat grass, gave her some soaked roughage cubes and continued with the probiotics. Yesterday, over a week from the onset and after four vet visit, things started to move and she had quite a few loose bowel movements.

Today her manure is normal, she is eating hay and braying for food like the Molly we know and love! We are grateful to Serge and Jessica at Coninx Equine Mobile for their thoughtful and excellent care during this past week. Their amazing help and Molly’s stubborn nature got us through this ordeal and thankfully there is a happy ending to this donkey's tale.

If you have equines please check your pasture for toxic plants! There are many plants and trees in our natural landscape that can hurt or even kill a horse or donkey. With barren pastures due to drought conditions it is more important than ever to remove poisons that could harm your animals. The following link is a list of those plants: http://bit.ly/2aIMBvU