‘I thought he’d died’: top vet team saves tiny donkey in five-hour operation

  • The life of a miniature donkey who was repeatedly staggering and collapsing as his heart was failing has been saved by the fitting of a pacemaker.

    Prince Buttons is thought to be one of just a handful of donkeys in the world to have undergone the procedure, which in his case was a five-hour operation at Rainbow Equine Hospital, Malton.

    Buttons’ owner Denise Hart contacted the hospital as her five-year-old miniature donkey was having episodes where he would stagger, then collapse.

    “It was horrific, and the first time it happened I thought he’d died,” she said. “Then the episodes became more frequent and sometimes he would be cantering around the field and just drop to the ground.

    “I was very worried about him and [his half-brother] Rolo would also get very upset and stressed. He would be my early warning system because he could sense something was wrong and bray very loudly even before Buttons collapsed.”

    After observation and testing, Gemma Tyner, who is on Rainbow’s equine internal medicine specialist team, diagnosed a potentially fatal heart condition called bradycardia, a very slow and irregular heartbeat.

    Gemma said Button’s heartbeat would block, or stop functioning normally, repeatedly, for up to 24 seconds at a time. This meant blood was not being pumped around his body, which made him pass out.

    “Buttons’ condition was very serious and that is a very long time to go without a normal heartbeat,” she said. “Unfortunately, it’s not something that can be managed with medication and, sadly, euthanasia had to be considered. If left untreated Buttons’ health would continue to deteriorate because his heart would gradually weaken and his other organs would begin to fail as well because of blood not circulating to them properly.

    “But I was able to tell Buttons’ owner the good news that there was an option to save his life, which was fitting a pacemaker.”

    Gemma gathered an “A team” of vets to treat Buttons, including Celia Marr, a specialist in internal medicine at Rossdales Veterinary Surgeons in Newmarket, a sister practice of Rainbow Equine Hospital, and small animal surgeons Chris Linney and Julie Kavanagh, from Paragon Veterinary Referrals in Wakefield, who perform the surgery in dogs.

    The pacemaker, the size of a large box of matches, was inserted into a pocket in Buttons’ neck and wires connected to his heart.

    “The pacemaker has been programmed to activate if Buttons’ heart rate drops lower than 30bpm, and it sends an alert if the heart regularly drops below this rate,” Gemma said.

    “We are absolutely delighted how successful the operation was and with Buttons’ recovery. The pacemaker, which should last Buttons at least 15 years, has been extremely well tolerated by him. He hasn’t collapsed since it was fitted, which means it’s doing its job, and hopefully it will allow him to enjoy a long and happy life.”

    The donkey is recovering at home with Denise and Rolo, who accompanied him on all his hospital visits.

    Denise said: “I can’t thank the team at Rainbow enough, and everyone else involved in Buttons’ surgery, for saving his life. Gemma did an amazing job bringing such an experienced team together and Buttons was looked after extremely well at the hospital.

    “Fitting a pacemaker is a major procedure, but I would be totally lost without Buttons and I had to do everything I could to help him. I’ve been very ill with breast cancer and bone cancer and my two donkeys have helped me to stay positive and given me a reason to get out of bed in the morning because they rely on me to care for them. They are such a joy to have around.”

    She added: “Since the surgery, Buttons is a different donkey and he’s much friendlier and happier, which shows how unwell he was feeling before the pacemaker was fitted. It’s so lovely to see him enjoying life out in the paddock with Rolo and it’s all thanks to the team at Rainbow and the external specialists who all worked to undertake this unique procedure.”

    You might also be interested in:

    Horse & Hound magazine, out every Thursday, is packed with all the latest news and reports, as well as interviews, specials, nostalgia, vet and training advice. Find how you can enjoy the magazine delivered to your door every week, plus options to upgrade your subscription to access our online service that brings you breaking news and reports as well as other benefits.

    You may like...