Aitana: progress and reflection

Aitana in the stable in her static position she has kept up for most of the six weeks since her ‘flu/tetanus injection on 4 July.
Today we have some signs of hope on various levels, and Aitana seems to be pulling out of the medical crisis she was plunged into six weeks ago.

Let’s just look back at what happened this week, as recorded in these blog posts.  My vet took a blood sample on Wednesday, and after a visual assessment made the suggestion that hyperlipaemia may be the problem.  In that case, according to information freely available on the internet, Aitana could have been dead in 24 hours. After taking the blood sample and making that comment, the vet disappeared on holiday with no further involvement in the situation, so I had to try and put an action plan together.

I spent a sleepless night in agony about my poor Aitana.  I also spent time researching the situation on the internet, as did my daughter Alys in Wales.  I spoke to the Donkey Sanctuary in Sidmouth but kept losing the phone signal, then Alys spoke to the sanctuary on my behalf, relaying the details.  (Special thanks to Nikki in Sidmouth who supplied detailed help.)  Alys was as worried as me by the hyperlipaemia suggestion, particularly as she was miles away and unable to help here, but saw the same internet information about the seriousness of such a diagnosis.  As she said, “we went through hell” this week, and all because of a careless casual remark about a blood sample.

Eventually I was put in touch with Cecilio of the Refugio del Burrito in Malaga, who in turn referred me to a specialist equine vet, Dorothea.  She immediately assured me that the vet’s visual analysis of the blood – with white “fat” on top, i.e. indicating lipids, and possibly hyperlipaemia – was quite mistaken.  “These would be small aggregates of white blood cells: fat in plasma cannot be seen before centrifugation.”  (I have also now had an opportunity to explore this point with a colleague at school who is the main biology teacher who largely agrees with that.)

I sent Dorothea the blood analysis from the Cordoba laboratory and she pronounced Aitana’s blood completely normal.  She simply suggested a good vitamin supplement should be given and also biotin “to encourage hoof growth” (after the laminitis).  If you’re reading this, Dorothea, many thanks for stepping in with freely offered professional help. I am very impressed with your commitment to an animal you have not met!

Cecilio, of the Refugio del Burrito, who put me in touch with Dorothea, had messaged me from Tarragona on Wednesday evening, where he was involved in a donkey sanctuary rescue. He reassured me the idea of hyperlipaemia was quite absurd, given all the facts I had supplied.

Aitana’s hooves prior to diagnosis of laminitis

So what happened here?  The pieces of the puzzle are now plain to see.

Aitana had developed laminitis. In earlier photographic evidence we can trace that back to May 2017.  I had never seen laminitis, so I did not recognize the signs when it happened. To the experienced eye, the above photo says it all (as Mary commenting on the previous blog post has made clear.) Yet a supposed equine specialist vet didn’t even notice…

On 4 July 2017 the vet arrived here at El Parral to give equine ‘flu / tetanus vaccinations to all four donkeys.  The vet had not seen my animals for several months but she clearly did not assess their condition: she simply went in and administered the vaccinations.  This included putting a virus (which is a vaccination) into Aitana, who was at that moment an animal suffering the extreme pàin of laminitis, which was visually obvious now from the photographs of her from May 2017 and a professional should have spotted it immediately, had she chosen to look at the animals before injecting them.


After the innoculations, when I observed the rapid weight loss in Aitana that followed within the next days and weeks, I asked my vet if there was a connection between the ‘flu/tet vaccination and the weight loss. She said very definitely, there was no connection.  So I was left to work out the mystery of this coincidence: a healthy animal suddenly becomes sick after innoculation, but there is no causal factor…

There are clearly a number of issues here about some of the judgements made, including the prescription of the painkiller EQzona for Aitana, for more than the short period which is safe.  More than a week and secondary effects like stomach ulcers may occur, but I was told to keep on giving Aitana this painkiller twice a day.  (Thanks to Jacobo the farrier, who knows his stuff, I stopped administering EQzona immediately!)

But the story went further into this valley.  As the crisis unfolded earlier in the week, I went to see a neighbour of mine who has three donkeys.  He had four until one died.  I remembered he told me it was a liver problem.  Hyperlipaemia involves liver failure in the end, so I thought it worth going to speak with him on Thursday to see what I could learn.

I shall not include any details here because I want to respect his privacy, and keep him anonymous, but all I want to say is that he was advised by the same vet.  She didn’t have much to do with the last days of his donkey, but administered a cocktail of drugs when the situation had been allowed to go into crisis.  She told him this would help strengthen his donkey.  The donkey was dead next day.

My neighbour still speaks of what happened with tears in his eyes and the vet has not been in touch with him since.  His remaining donkeys have had no routine inspection or medication since, and he had no idea of the importance of the tetanus inocculation for equines before I explained it to him, as he had never been properly informed.  I found that profoundly shocking.

After this horrible week, I am highly motivated to become more involved with the work of the Donkey Sanctuary, having seen the enthusiasm and professionalism with which they responded to Aitana. But I am also concerned that there are people out there (I include myself!) who keep donkeys and don’t know enough.

There are also a variety of people who are animal professionals, some working to a higher standard than others. We need to make a careful assessment of who we are listening to.

Aitana in her valley.  My six year old donkey in a Jurassic limestone landscape of rocks formed millions of years ago in the Tethys ocean.

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