It's all about the stripes!
Sometimes when you work in equine practice, life throws you a curve ball, and today was that day.
I spotted (no pun intended) a rather unusual visit booked in my diary: Please attend to dart a zebra for the farrier. So firstly I was quite inspired at the thought of there being a zebra roaming around the wild savannah-like terrain of the garden of England, aka Kent. Secondly, I was intrigued as to what problem the zebra had that required such intervention.
'Zebby' is a much loved privately owned 14 year old stallion Zebra. There are a variety of breeds within three species of zebra - the Burchell's or plains zebra; Grevy's zebra and the mountain zebra, each of which can be distinguished by their markings. 'Zebby' is an Equus quagga chapmani or Chapman's zebra. These animals are native to parts of the savannah region of South Africa, Zimbabwe, Angola, Botswana, and Namibia. These subspecies have stripes resembling the Burchell's zebra. The pastern of this equid is not all black on the lower half. The foals have brown stripes and in some cases, adults retain their brown stripes for life. These zebras live in large herds of about tens of thousands of individuals. Herds are made of family groups, called harems, and bachelors. Harems and consist of a herd stallion, 1 to 6 females, and their offspring.
'Zebby' came to live in Kent just over a decade ago, bought by the current owners after he was imported from the Netherlands. Possibly not having had the best journey to the UK, the very kind hearted owners couldn't resist the nervous and anxious 'Zebby' and knew he had a home for life. He lives happily with his donkey companion named 'Donkey', despite being a Jenny - zonks are yet to appear!!
Whilst 'Zebby' isn't keen on having a halter on or being restrained, he is very personable and loves cuddles with his owners. Not sure what to expect, given the knowledge that I had been asked to dart him, I was introduced to the friendly chap who let me stroke him over his door. He's very passionate about his personal space however, and does become quite anxious when strangers enter the stable.
Right fore prior to trimming
Zebby roams on the concrete yard daily as well as having access to grazing. This helps to keep his feet neat and the requirement for trimming is infrequent.
Before trimming with sedation
However, the owners discovered that Zebby's right fore inside wall of the hoof capsule does not grow normally. Over time it has underpin, growing to cover the inside half of the sole of the foot and so the weight bearing surface isn't the sole but the outside of the inner hoof wall.
So as not to distress 'Zebby' the owners sought advice from vets regarding the options for managing this problem. Whilst he is affectionate and loves his ears being played with in particular, he does remain true to his wild zebra spirit. Zebra are particularly strong and quick and can become aggressive if threatened. A variety of sedation options were discussed and having carefully considered all options, the owners asked if we would sedate 'Zebby' by darting.
Usually reserved for wildlife or feral animals, darting certainly has a placed in the domesticated animal population. Darting sounds rather dramatic, but it is actually exactly the same as any other intramuscular injection technique, but has the added advantage of allowing the operator to stand at a distance from the animal - either for their own safety or more usually, so as not to distress or alarm the animal. 'Zebby' has very quick response and the owners reported that he would potentially allow intravenous or direct intramuscular injections, but we would only have one chance. To minimise stress and ensure the complete dose was administered at the first opportunity, darting seemed to be the ideal choice. Below shows 'Zebby' calmly sedated having received sedation via a dart in the right neck muscles.
Happily, 'Zebby' responded very well indeed to the sedation dose given and allowed his remedial farriery to be taken out without any problems at all. This was a great example of a great team approach, with an excellent result for vet, farrier, owners and 'Zebby'. This method of sedation was well tolerated by 'Zebby' and despite initial concerns on how 'Zebby' would respond to sedation and handling, the owners certainly were thrilled on how smooth and relaxed the appointment was.
Hopefully, now his hoof has been rebalanced he will be able to wear it down more normally, but I can't say I'll be unhappy or disappointed to visit 'Zebby' again should he need another trim in the future!