Sweetie’s story: Two-for-one sur­prise

EQUUS - - Tack& Gear -

I watched as the vet­eri­nary stu­dent as­signed to “Sweetie” pre­sented her med­i­cal case. A mare of av­er­age build, Sweetie was ch­est­nut with a lit­tle bit of white, 15 hands tall, mid­dle-aged with a quiet de­meanor. She had sus­tained a bad lac­er­a­tion, and her lov­ing (but neo­phyte) own­ers were will­ing and able to do what­ever it took to fix it.

The stu­dent ex­plained about the surgery Sweetie had un­der­gone and re­layed in­for­ma­tion about her treat­ment plan. Then, the vet­eri­nary tech­ni­cian asked when Sweetie was due to foal. The stu­dent looked puz­zled. The other stu­dents were quiet as the at­tend­ing ve­teri­nar­ian in­formed us that the mare was not preg­nant. The ex­pe­ri­enced tech­ni­cian and I looked at each other in sur­prise— we had both foaled out a num­ber of mares for clients, as well as our own. Sweetie clearly had a very large ab­domen.

“When did the own­ers ac­quire her?” I asked. “They res­cued her back in Oc­to­ber, and she was thin at that time,” the stu­dent ex­plained.

The at­tend­ing ve­teri­nar­ian broke in: “But she doesn’t have any ud­der de­vel­op­ment, so she can’t be preg­nant.”

I posed an­other ques­tion: “Has she been eat­ing fes­cue?” A fun­gus that in­fects this type of grass, com­mon in the area, can in­ter­fere with ges­ta­tional hor­mone sig­nal­ing, re­sult­ing in re­duced or ab­sent milk pro­duc­tion, pro­longed preg­nancy and prob­lems dur­ing the birth process. No one knew if she had been eat­ing fes­cue or not.

We brought out an ul­tra­sound ma­chine and I placed the probe against Sweetie’s belly. Sure enough, there were legs, ribs and a tiny heart­beat. This mare had been through gen­eral anes­the­sia dur­ing late term preg­nancy. The own­ers had no idea.

With a bit of in­ves­ti­ga­tion, we learned that the mare had been eat­ing fes­cue, which had halted her milk pro­duc­tion. Sweetie was dis­charged from the hospi­tal with med­i­ca­tion to help coun­ter­act the toxin from the fes­cue, strict feed­ing guidelines, in­for­ma­tion about the birthing process and an ap­point­ment for the next week with the re­pro­duc­tion spe­cial­ists to help more closely de­ter­mine an ex­pected due date.

That ap­point­ment turned out to be un­nec­es­sary be­cause her own­ers called early the very next morn­ing—she foaled at home. She had a beau­ti­ful, per­fect foal but no milk. They re­turned to the vet­eri­nary teach­ing hospi­tal where a ded­i­cated team looked af­ter Sweetie and her colt for an­other week. Sweetie fi­nally came into milk, and the colt thrived.

A mare with a sur­prise preg­nancy is not un­com­mon in res­cue sit­u­a­tions, even when the mare is thin. This case had a good out­come, par­tially be­cause of the bad luck that landed Sweetie in the hospi­tal in the first place, and par­tially be­cause her own­ers and the vet­eri­nary team worked closely to en­sure she had ev­ery­thing she needed. When Sweetie’s peo­ple res­cued her, they were 100 per­cent com­mit­ted. It is won­der­ful when peo­ple com­mit in this way to horses, even if their mon­e­tary value may not be high.

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