After a multiple-day history of lethargy and lack of appetite and after treatment on the farm, Jennie, a 7-year-old donkey jenny, owned by the Maruca and Witt families from Leesburg, Virginia was referred to the Marion duPont Scott Equine Medical Center (EMC) by Gabrielle Care, a veterinarian from Total Equine Veterinary Associates, Leesburg, for further diagnostics and treatment.

Mark Witt had collected two donkeys that needed a new home and one of the donkeys unbeknownst to him and his family had tetanus. That donkey sadly passed away the day after arriving at her new home.

Feeling that the remaining donkey would need companionship, Witt searched and found Jennie on a sheep farm in Staunton, Virginia. Jennie was the only equine on the farm and had started getting food aggressive with the sheep and the farmer decided it was time for her to find a new home. 

Jennie was introduced to her new pasture mate Gordon, who was immediately smitten and the rest is history. “While Gordon is very sociable and attention-seeking, Jennie is very quiet and super gentle,” explained Witt. 

Lack of knowledge and the understanding that equines can be very tenacious despite their size, it wasn’t long before Jennie was expecting. 

When Jennie and an estimated 12-hour-old filly Sparkles arrived at the EMC, Sparkles was lying down in the trailer and was carried into the hospital. Once in the hospital, Sparkles was able to walk unaided into the stall. The filly was bright and responsive with a good suckle reflex and no milk aspiration. Sparkles weighed in at a hefty 44 pounds and seemed relatively healthy.


Elizabeth MacDonald, clinical instructor of Equine Medicine, and her support team noted that Jennie was dull and lethargic but seemed to have no sign of obvious discomfort, but understood only too well that donkeys can be extremely stoic. 

Jennie’s white blood cell count was found to be elevated along with liver enzyme (GGT) and triglyceride levels. An ultrasound revealed an enlarged liver. These findings were consistent with hyperlipemia and hepatic lipidosis, a condition caused by fat mobilization and fat accumulation in the liver and blood.  This is caused by decreased food intake. Donkeys, ponies, and obese horses are prone to this condition along with pregnant and lactating mares and jennies. 

Jennie also had retained fetal membranes. Fetal membranes are typically expelled within three hours of birth and can cause illness if retained for longer periods of time. Jennie was lightly sedated and a uterine lavage was performed to encourage distention and a thorough cleaning of her uterus, with the goal of loosening the retained membranes. Shortly afterward, Jennie successfully passed the fetal membranes.

Medical management and supportive care were initiated with Jennie being treated with intravenous fluids, intravenous nutrition, insulin, anti-inflammatory drugs, medication to encourage milk production, and systemic antibiotics. In addition, Jennie was offered a variety of different grains and hay to try and encourage her to eat.

“I was immediately impressed by communications from staff, from the initial intake at the front desk to the explanation of the course of action that the doctors thought necessary.”


-Mark Whitt, owner of Sparkles and Jennie

Sparkle’s bloodwork was checked when the filly was about 18 hours old and it indicated partial failure of passive transfer of immunity due to poor quality colostrum, inadequate colostrum intake, or absorption. Sparkles received a plasma transfusion to give the necessary immunoglobulins for protection and was started on systemic antibiotics. Sparkles remained bright and happy but acted hungry all the time so the filly was offered a milk replacement until Jennie was producing enough milk.

Jennie was quiet and comfortable on the first night in the hospital but had a decreased appetite and manure production. In the morning, blood work was rechecked and treatments were adjusted accordingly. 

Over the next couple of days, as Jennie’s clinical signs improved and appetite returned, treatments were gradually decreased and then discontinued. After five days in the hospital, Jennie was brighter, eating well, and keeping the equine support staff busy by producing lots of manure.

Jennie and Sparkles were discharged from the hospital with very clear instructions for continued care at home.  

“Being new to equines, looking back on our experience with the Equine Medical Center we are very fortunate.,” Witt said. “I was immediately impressed by communications from staff, from the initial intake at the front desk to the explanation of the course of action that the doctors thought necessary."

“We were very surprised to hear from the doctors every morning and evening with just routine updates on how Jennie and Sparkles were responding to treatment. Also worth noting is that every time we came to visit, the staff were very inviting and always had something sweet to say about how our girls were doing. I am confident in saying that although this is our first emergency medical situation with our donkeys, the Equine Medical Center has set a very high bar!”


Written by Sharon Peart for the Virginia-Maryland College of Veterinary Medicine.