Long recovery from ‘ballerina syndrome’ for young equine

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Casey's front hooves before treatment, which started when he was just two months old.
Casey’s front hooves before treatment, which started when he was just two months old. © The Donkey Sanctuary

A young donkey who could only stand on tiptoes because of an unusual hoof condition, has made great strides thanks to life-changing veterinary treatment at international animal welfare charity, The Donkey Sanctuary.

Two-year-old Casey was born with “ballerina syndrome”, a condition that meant he could not put his feet flat on the ground.

Casey struggled from birth with the medical condition, which causes contracted ligaments and left the tendons in his legs to tighten so much that, he had to walk on tiptoes. The syndrome also left him unbalanced and prone to tipping over.

Ballerina syndrome causes contracted ligaments.
Ballerina syndrome causes contracted ligaments. © The Donkey Sanctuary

Donkeys with ballerina syndrome are unable to fully weight bear through their solar surfaces and stand on their toes instead. The condition is relatively rare in equines, but if left unattended the condition can result in lameness and often requires surgery.

Casey started receiving treatment when he was just two months old, which involved stretching each of his front legs three times a day. These exercises slowly helped to lengthen the tendons. At the same time, a farrier fitted extensions onto Casey’s front hooves to help bring his heel down on the ground.

Grooms would also walk Casey up and down a slope every day to exercise the tendons and encourage his body to adapt to a more natural position.

Although the results were not immediate, dedicated staff at the charity refused to be disheartened in their quest to have Casey walking properly. They began to see minor progression week by week, and by January 2019, Casey’s legs had markedly improved.

After a relapse of ballerina syndrome, it was recommended Casey have remedial shoes fitted.
After a relapse of ballerina syndrome, it was recommended Casey have remedial shoes fitted. © The Donkey Sanctuary

Sadly, despite the intensive treatment, Casey’s symptoms of ballerina syndrome began creeping back earlier last year.

Maria Hughes, one of Casey’s grooms at The Donkey Sanctuary, said: “We could see Casey starting to come back onto his tiptoes again. When he walked, it was obvious.  After a vet and farrier reassessed him, they recommended we fit him with special remedial shoes to help him walk properly again.”

Thanks to his treatment, Casey can now trot around with his friends.
Thanks to his treatment, Casey can now trot around with his friends. © The Donkey Sanctuary

The new treatment showed great promise, but Maria said: “As with all physiotherapy cases, there are ups and down and Casey’s situation was no different. But the team’s dedication and hard work finally paid off and we are delighted to see this young donkey can now trot around comfortably and play with his friends.”

The Donkey Sanctuary is a global leader for equine welfare, research and veterinary care. The charity operates programmes worldwide for animals working in agriculture, industry and transportation.

Casey with his groom, Maria Hughes.
Casey with his groom, Maria Hughes. © The Donkey Sanctuary

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