When fat can kill: Obese mini donkeys saved in nick of time

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Penny and Chelsea were found severely overweight on a North Devon property.
Penny and Chelsea were found severely overweight on a North Devon property. © The Donkey Sanctuary

A pair of grossly overweight Miniature donkeys in Britain with twisted and overgrown hooves are now facing a brighter future thanks to the intervention of an international animal welfare charity.

Penny and Chelsea were both extremely overweight with large rolls of fat covering their necks and pendulous bellies. They were found at a site in North Devon in June 2020, living with a group of other donkeys, all of whom were overweight.

In donkeys, there is a much higher risk of an overweight donkey developing a condition called hyperlipaemia, which is caused by too much fat in the blood and can be fatal, especially if not treated promptly. Obesity can also lead to laminitis, as well as putting additional strain on the organs and the joints.

On arrival at the farm, The Donkey Sanctuary’s Donkey Welfare Adviser Jenna Goldby could see that Penny and Chelsea were obese and needed urgent veterinary attention to avert a potentially fatal situation. She also realised there were other issues to address, and immediately called a vet to the site.

Thirteen-year-old Penny’s hooves were in a horrendous state and showed signs of laminitis, and her companion, 10-year-old Chelsea, also had overgrown hooves.

“I was mainly concerned about Penny’s hind hooves, as they had a considerable twist that resulted in her walking on the outside of the hoof,” Goldby said.

“The deformity of the hooves much have been causing incredible pressure on the ligaments and tendons in Penny’s legs.

Penny's feet were in a poor state.
Penny’s feet were in a poor state. © The Donkey Sanctuary

“Penny’s front hooves were also overgrown and showed abnormalities that are commonly associated with laminitis. I was concerned she was in pain, so it was important that she was examined by a vet as soon as possible.”

The vet carried out a full examination of Penny and Chelsea and explained the severity of Penny’s hoof abnormalities would result in her requiring years of farriery care to correct the deformities and continue to keep her hooves balanced in the correct way.

Goldby discussed Penny and Chelsea’s ongoing care needs with the owner, and it was agreed it would be in the donkeys’ best interests for them to be relinquished into the care of The Donkey Sanctuary.

Penny and Chelsea are now progressing well at the charity’s Brookfield Farm near Honiton, Devon and now have a safe home for life in the charity’s care.

They have both gradually lost the excess weight under the guidance of a vet and have a healthy body condition.

Penny's hind feet had a "considerable twist", that resulted in her walking on the outside of the hoof.
Penny’s hind feet had a “considerable twist”, which resulted in her walking on the outside of the hoof. © The Donkey Sanctuary

Unfortunately, the pair have been left with irreversible damage to their hooves. Chelsea required pain relief and remedial farriery when she arrived, but her long-term prognosis is better than Penny’s, who has chronic laminitis and now wears plastic shoes to support her hooves.

The Donkey Sanctuary has also worked with the owner to make changes that would support weight loss in their other donkeys, and they continue to work with a local vet to monitor their progress.

Chelsea, left, and Penny have lost their excess weight and are under regular farrier care.
Chelsea, left, and Penny have lost their excess weight and are under regular farrier care. © The Donkey Sanctuary

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