Not long after we arrived in our lovely rural idyll, we were joined by two donkeys: Jill and Rita. These are a lovely couple of girls. Jill is 20 years old and a gentle soul who literally goes weak at the knees when you brush her cheeks. Rita is 16 and has a great personality, liberally laced with large dollops of bossiness.
Both donkeys suffer from a nasty condition called laminitis. Laminitis is a sadly shining example of why it is better to treat the whole rather than just an isolated problem.
On the surface laminitis looks like a foot condition. Which it is – but, the condition is caused by what the donkey, pony or horse is eating and how they digest it. In simple terms, laminitis occurs when the animal, in this case our lovely donkeys, eat too much of the lush spring grass. As they digest the grass they breakdown all those springy sugars in their gut, which in turn sets it up to be a breeding ground for a bacteria. Not content to party on in the stomach, the bacteria works it way throughout the system and then attached the delicate laminae in the foot. These are the little connectors (I think of them as tiny threads or spider webs) that hold the pedal bone of the foot against the hoof wall. The bone then drops and the poor donkey is now walking right on the bone. It can be excruciating.
To treat laminitis you have to really take an holistic approach. You need to sort out the pain, restrict the diet, get the gut working better and make sure the hooves are trimmed in a way that can start to support the pedal bone again. This takes time.
So back to the lovely Rita and Jill. We have owned them for about two and a half months now. I got the vet out to see them when they first got here and he put them on a 3-4 day course of Bute, which is a painkiller, which was a good short term option in their very acute state, but hey ho, of course, Bute messes with the digestive tract, so in the long run that is not going to help at all.
When the vet came I also started them on a blend of herbal tinctures I made to deal to the pain and help the stomach. This included herbs such as Devil’s Claw, which is very effective natural pain relief. I gave this to them twice daily with a small handful of rice bran and matcha tea. Matcha is the ground bright green teas used for centuries in Japan. It is extremely high in antioxidants which can help to reduce inflammation so I figured that the girls might benefit from it. I damp down this mixture with a tea of rosehips and nettle – great sources of vitamin C and a multitude of minerals and vitamins. Needless to say they love it.
Nature has so much close at hand for us to use. I would cut willow for them. Willow contains salicin which asprin is made from. Willow is a valuable treatment for things like fevers and rheumatism. Often animals will self medicate with willow if they have access to it. Jill seems to enjoy munching on it!
The good news is that the girls have responded really well to treatment. Rita is practically skipping about like a spring lamb. I don’t think Jill will ever become a ballerina, but she is definitely much improved. The fantastic thing is that as they have got better, their personalities have blossomed and you can see them taking a lot more notice of what is going on around them. Delightful!