Just before Christmas a supporter of the Trust purchased a donkey via TradeMe. The donkey was initially advertised as an auction but due to TradeMe rules and welfare concerns, the original advertisement was removed by TradeMe. As it happened, the person selling was able to contact the potential purchaser directly and the deal was done.

The donkey, Artemis, is approximately 30 years old and had been on her own for a couple of years at least. The purchaser was concerned about managing another aging donkey and the potential cost so she contacted the Trust to ask if we would take her. Artemis was subsequently relocated quite soon afterwards into the care of a Trust guardian.

For the first few days all was well. Artemis was kept next to other donkeys and seemed to be settling in. Her teeth were in a terrible state and so the vet came and did the bare minimum to improve her ability to grind food as she was unable to eat any hay.

Donkey stops eating

However, on the morning of Christmas Eve Artemis stopped eating. Nothing could entice her to eat – we tried various foods, putting the other donkeys in with her, letting her roam in long grass but nothing worked except for carrots. This was most concerning, so the vet was called and luckily the vet on-call has a lot of donkey experience.

The reason Artemis had stopped eating was not obvious as donkeys are extremely stoic and do not show “where it hurts”, they can just stop eating. The risk is that donkeys are very susceptible to hyperlipidemia if they stop eating for 8 -12 hours which can be fatal. Katie, the vet, and her excellent assistant Nicky took immediate action to try and prevent hyperlipidemia while taking bloods to test for infection etc and doing a rectal exam. Indications were that the issue was a form of colic.

Rushed to Hospital

Katie advised that the best action was to get Artemis to Massey University Equine Hospital in Palmerston North as soon as possible. So that is where she went.

At 6pm she was in a stall with an IV as the vets at the hospital started their investigations. Morning came and there were more signs of colic as Artemis had not passed any manure for over 24 hours. So that night a nasal tube was inserted, and every two hours liquid was flushed thorough her system which included salts to move the potential blockage and molasses to keep her from getting hyperlipidemia as she was still not eating.

As is often the case with donkeys, it was not a smooth ride for Artemis, who fought the insertion of the nasal tube even with sedation, or for the vets and guardian, as she still did not pass sufficient manure to show the blockage had cleared.

Ultimately 120 litres of fluid were flushed through her system via three separate tubings. The last one on Friday 30 December was to be her last chance, given the trauma of putting her through this invasive procedure and considering her age. She had to show signs of passing the blockage this last time or the prognosis would not be good. Miracle of miracles that is what she did. Saturday morning her digestive system started to work.

While Artemis had been eating sporadically over the previous few days and continued to do so after the flushing of her system, she would not eat anything apart from grass. The trauma of the process meant it was now very difficult to get any medication into her as she fought any syringe.

On Monday 2 December after 9 days at the hospital she arrived back at her guardian’s home. Since then, progress has been slow. Her appetite did not return immediately and therefore she did not pass a lot of manure. She got an infection in her nose presumably from the tube and has been treated with penicillin which certainly helped her appetite as did giving her willow leaves. She is now passing more manure and eating hard feed again.

Artemis is still not completely out of the woods yet. The indications are that she had sand colic where sand she consumed when eating has settled in her digestive tract which can build up over time and become very hard. There is a good chance that this blockage had been building up and the change of location, getting her teeth done and a change of diet brought it all to a head.