The story is often told that for those who live and work or grow-up around animal life, the lessons of life and death come naturally. Late yesterday afternoon I wasn’t sure there was any truth in the sentiment.
Last Saturday, Dr. Courtney Diehl arrived at 8 AM to look in on Allie’s foal. Pete noticed on Friday afternoon the young colt wasn’t able to stand and nurse. Dr. Diehl’s initial assessment indicated the baby was suffering from hypothermia and low blood sugar. After a round of radiographs, she administered a dextrose solution through an IV and later anti-inflammatory, anti-biotic, and sedative medications. We also rushed to get the foal’s body temperature up from 93 degrees. With the help of our ranch hands, Shon and Dawn, we used a combination of hot packs, hot water bottles, a space heater, heat lamp, and blankets to increase his core temperature.
Around 2 PM, after every practical thing could be done for Allie’s foal, Dr. Diehl left the ranch to take blood samples to a lab. Later she called to say the blood work confirmed the colt was suffering from septicemia. Septicemia is an aggressive bacterial infection affecting any and all systems in a foal. In hindsight, we realize for Allie’s baby the infection began in his elbow joint and quickly spread throughout his body.
A primary risk factor in septicemia is a failure of passive transfer, the failure of the foal to get antibodies from the mare while nursing right after birth. We suspect the foal may not have gotten her mother’s colostrum early enough after birth. If he hadn’t and then ingested, inhaled, or was contaminated with bacteria before sufficient nursing, he was a high risk for developing septicemia. Pete did treat the baby’s umbilical stump with betadine after his birth, but the foal apparently picked up contaminating bacteria before he received the immune fighting defenses in his mother’s antibodies. Our cool, wet weather most likely played a part, too. The foal, although housed in a foaling stall, became hypothermic during the night.
At that point, the foal needed a plasma transfusion at a cost of several thousand dollars. We were faced with the difficult decision of considering a long-term treatment cost, transporting the baby to a Glenwood veterinary hospital, not knowing whether or not he would survive the trip, and, or the difficult option of putting him down. While we had decided the most humane decision was to put him down, before we had to euthanize him, Allie’s foal succumbed to the aggressive bacterial infection about 5 PM with Allie watching over him.
This is the first case of equine septicemia we’ve experienced here at the ranch. We found the roller coaster ride of desiring to remain hopeful he would survive and his sudden turns for the worse disheartening. At dinner last night we could only feel a sense of responsibility for his failure to survive. He was a beautiful colt, a great prospect and we could only think, “What if?”
Living with the cycles of life and death particularly the necessities of making life and death decisions concerning our horses never seems to feel comfortable. Petting Allie’s quiet and lifeless foal, only felt peaceful because I no longer had to watch his agony. I don’t think the experience of failing to save a life or facing the death of a ranch animal necessarily ever becomes natural or second nature. It seems our drive is defined by our hope to sustain life and in the end, the failure to do so is simply against our natural instincts.
For more information on equine septicemia, go to: http://bit.ly/lD2TYJ