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On February 21, the birth of a silver-gray donkey colt in her pasture came as a complete surprise to Elaine del Cerro Yau of Warrenton, Virginia. 

The colt’s dam, Margaret, and her half-brother Jesus have been with Elaine for the past two years and live at her farm with a miniature donkey named Julian and a miniature Jersey cow named Esmerelda. 

When Margaret first arrived at the farm, she was cautious, but she started to show her super sweet and affectionate personality after settling in. Elaine noticed that Margaret was a little on the heavy side but had no idea that she was expecting! 

Once discovered, the newborn colt appeared to be thriving. Still, after being settled into a stall, Elaine noticed his attempt to suckle the walls and became concerned for his well-being and called Melinda Freckleton, founder, and owner of Firestar Veterinary Services. Although a thorough physical exam was within normal limits, due to the unknown delivery and the abnormal behavior of the foal at the time, Freckleton referred the colt to the Equine Medical Center for further diagnostics, treatment, and care.

When they arrived at the center, the colt was down in the trailer and needed to be placed on a gurney for safe transport into the hospital. During the initial exam, Emily Schaefer, clinical assistant professor of equine medicine, noted that the colt had dull mentation and weak suckle reflex. When he did attempt to nurse, he was aspirating milk. Additionally, his ears were weak and curled downwards, and although he could stand unaided for a short time, he could barely manage to walk a few steps. His eyes appeared bloodshot with bleeding in the sclera of his left eye - probably due to foaling trauma - and he was lacking appropriate gut sounds. 

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Cardiac auscultation revealed a systolic murmur on the left side of his heart. Ultrasound of the thoracic region revealed mild abnormalities in his lung fields. It confirmed that his kidneys, bladder, and gut appeared normal, except for moderate amounts of meconium still present in his colon. 

The colt’s clinical signs, physical exam, and bloodwork abnormalities led to a diagnosis of neonatal maladjustment syndrome, failure of transfer of passive immunity, severe hypoglycemia (low blood sugar), and azotemia (increased kidney values). The colt received intravenous antibiotics and hyperimmune plasma. Supportive care was initiated, including rehydration, feeding through an enteral feeding tube, and gastro protectants. 

After five days of hospitalization, the silver-gray donkey colt - who has since been named Valentino - was bright and comfortable with no signs of discomfort and displayed excellent nursing ability. Margaret herself did a fantastic job as a first-time mom and maintained a good attitude the whole time they were in the hospital. They were ready to go home! 

The little guy, weighing in at a mere 44 pounds, will need continued monitoring in the next few weeks to months of life as he continues his road to recovery. 

“The care that Margaret and Valentino received at the Marion duPont Scott Equine Medical Center was second to none,” said Elaine. “Having never faced an emergency like this, we were panic-stricken. Dr. Schaefer was very patient with our barrage of questions and rang us every day with updates. 

“We are certain that without the exceptional medical attention given immediately to Valentino, Margaret would have returned home without him. Words cannot express our gratitude and admiration for all the staff at the Equine Medical Center.”

» Learn more about neonatal and reproductive services available at the center

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Written by Sharon Peart, Marion duPont Scott Equine Medical Center