Video: Premature Zena gets round-the-clock care

February 24, 2010


Zena's back legs were bandaged in an attempt to give her added strength in standing to nurse.

Flora stands over newborn Zena. The Donkey Sanctuary has a non-breeding policy, but sometimes takes expectant donkey mothers into care. Flora was relinquished to the sanctuary as her owners' circumstances changed. Zena was born just a few months after Flora arrived.

A premature donkey foal too weak to stand and with a weak sucking reflex has been saved thanks to the round-the-clock efforts of staff at The Donkey Sanctuary, in Devon, England.

Zena was found early one morning curled up in the corner of a stable at the sanctuary with her mother, Flora, watching over her.

Although Zena was breathing, she was still and quiet, lying almost motionless in the straw. She was clearly unwell and it quickly became apparent that she was unable to stand.

The early hours of Zena's life were crucial. Urgent veterinary treatment was needed to save her life.

One of the sanctuary's vets, Elena Barrio, carried out an initial examination of Zena and confirmed that her legs were not able to support her as they were not working properly.

Zena desperately needed to feed, but couldn't stand to suckle from Flora. Even when Zena was held up to her mother's udder, her suck reflex was poor and she could not get enough milk.

Staff worked around the clock to help her.

An intensive feeding regime was implemented and staff combined regular bottle feeding with attempts to encourage Zena to latch on to her mother.

Zena's back legs were bandaged to give her added support in standing to reach her mother's milk.

Flora proved to be an excellent mother and was calm and patient with her foal throughout. Sometimes mothers can reject their foals if they fail to suckle or are weak from birth, but Flora proved a model parent.

Zena underwent an intensive period of veterinary examinations and diagnostic tests to find out what was wrong with her. This included a number of blood tests and X-rays.

Zena was diagnosed with a condition known as congenital flexural limb deformity, a relatively common problem in newborn foals.

She was treated with a combination of medical therapy and regular physiotherapy to restore the conformation of her legs.

The treatment was successful and Zena is now able to run around like a normal, happy foal.


Zena with Elena Barrio from the sanctuary's veterinary hospital. Barrio administered treatment to help to save Zena's life.