Conquering canker: pony defies the odds after 5 years in hospital

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A pony who spent five years undergoing intensive treatment for the serious hoof infection canker has finally been discharged from hospital.

Ten-year-old Audrey, lived in a specially designated paddock and stable for five years at charity Redwings’ Horse Hospital in Norfolk in Britain.

But she has finally been discharged and was able to join her new friends, Clarence and Fleetwood. She will be gradually reintroduced to herd life.

“Seeing Audrey out in a paddock, making new friends, has brought a tear to quite a few people’s eyes,” said veterinary surgeon Sarah Prior, who is based at Redwings’ Horse Hospital.

“We honestly thought she may never leave the hospital as that was the only way we could keep on top of this terrible infection she had. Audrey even had her own specially-designated care paddock and stable as she was such a long-term resident – she kind of became the hospital mascot! Everyone loved her so much, but we were desperate for her to have friends.

Audrey was finally discharged from hospital after undergoing treatment for five years. © Redwings

“Especially in the times we’re living in right now, knowing – however long it’s taken – that we’ve been able to turn her life around and to see her so happy, has been an incredible lift for everyone,” Prior said.

Audrey was rescued in 2014 from horrific conditions at a site in Wales, where hundreds of horses were found stranded deep in mud without any food, suffering from malnutrition, worms and infectious diseases.

Shortly after starting a new life at the Sanctuary, her carers referred her to the veterinary team in January 2015 when it appeared she was suffering from a mild infection in her two front feet. They used topical treatments to soothe the condition, but just a few weeks later, Audrey was back before the vets with her feet looking much worse. It was then that she was diagnosed with canker.

Canker is fairly rare, and affects the frog, bars, and sole. Some researchers have suggested the causative bacterium is a part of the Bacteroides species, which is similar to what causes “foot rot” in sheep. The microorganism associated with canker causes abnormal keratin production, or overgrowth of the horn.

Farriers were called in to remove as much of the infected hoof tissue as possible, but the canker returned. In August 2015, Audrey underwent a general anaesthetic to strip back her hooves even further and her stay at the hospital began. But just six months later, she had to have more abnormal tissue removed from one hoof under standing sedation.

Audrey was treated for the rare hoof condition canker for five years. © Redwings

Sadly, with all treatment options being exhausted, it was agreed in 2016 that Audrey would be given a final summer to enjoy some peaceful turn-out and then she would be put to sleep because of the impact her condition was having on her quality of life. As there is a risk that canker could be contagious, she was given her own stable and special care paddock at the hospital, between which she split her time.

“Canker is a very frustrating disease as some cases fail to respond to surgical or medical treatment. When we decided to give her one last summer, we simply dressed her hooves every day, treated them with iodine, put her in some protective boots and kept an eye on her. Then, to our surprise, her condition started to stabilise,” Prior said.

“We were very sad that she was on her own as we like all the horses to be in herds where they can exhibit their natural behaviours, but she seemed so content that it became difficult to justify putting her to sleep. If she had been miserable, then it probably would have been another story, but we decided to keep monitoring her and that’s what we continued to do for the next few years.”

Audrey meeting her new friends, Clarence and Fleetwood.
Audrey meeting her new friends, Clarence and Fleetwood. © Redwings

Then last year, to everyone’s amazement, the canker looked like it was starting to clear up. Over the next year, the veterinary team slowly began to withdraw from dressing Audrey’s hooves and started looking for some suitable friends for her. They were finally able to introduce her to Clarence and Fleetwood and bid her an emotional farewell from the Hospital.

Redwings Chief Executive Lynn Cutress said she was proud of the work by Audrey’s veterinary team and equine carers.

“To dedicate five years to treating a pony, with no real end date in sight at one point, shows the incredible extra mile our teams go to ensure our rescued horses enjoy the happy lives they deserve, often after such terrible neglect. I’m going to miss seeing Audrey in her special paddock every day.”

More than 1500 animals rely on Redwings for their daily care.

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