How is it possible that 9 out of 10 donkeys rescued over the past 2 months have had pneumonia? The survival rate of the 9 donkeys with pneumonia is 50%. The average costs for each donkey with pneumonia has been $575. Do the math, and you will see why rescues are struggling.
Since our local vet was unavailable to help figure out how to care for donkeys in Texas, we did the next best thing – we asked our followers on the Equine Rescue Network. Within an hour we gained valuable insight and HOPE that can change the outcomes for many donkey (and horses).
We have been treating pneumonia with antibiotics, when it may be possible to prevent pneumonia with deworming!
The answer that gave us hope is Lungworms! “Lungworm is an infection of the lower respiratory tract in horses, usually resulting in bronchitis or pneumonia, caused by the parasitic roundworm Dictyocaulus arnfieldi. The infection can cause severe coughing in horses and can be difficult to distinguish from other respiratory diseases“ (Source)
Lungworms are easily treated with a dose of Ivermectin (dewormer). Ivermectin is sold in most farm stores, and available online for as little as $1.99. Despite the price, it is safe to assume that the donkeys who are dropped at the killpens in Texas have NEVER BEEN DEWORMED. Donkeys are a natural host of this parasite because they tolerate a large infestation of lungworms without apparent signs. Therefore, their lungs are likely to be infested with lungworms that lay dormant until the stress of killpen-life weakens the donkey’s immune system.
Horses are far less tolerant of lungworms and will demonstrate a severe cough once in contract the parasite. Most horses are dewormed regularly – or at least far more regularly than the donkeys we see in killpens. This may explain why instances of pneumonia are less frequent with the horses we save.
The other issue is that the lungworm larvae can live in pastures (and horse trailers). I am sure that there is lungworm larvae at both the killpens and the quarantine barns which is why we need to focus on worming every equine that we rescue as soon as they are healthy enough to receive Ivermectin.
The Equine Rescue Network is working with Xoetis (makers of Exceed) and also Merck (makers of Ivermectin) to see if we can get some complimentary product shipped to the killpens this way rescuers of horses and donkeys can opt to have their horses and donkeys wormed immediately.
I should add the disclaimer – first, I am not a veterinarian – and the veterinarians that I have spoken to don’t recommend worming for horses/donkeys that are already compromised with ill health.