After a long dry spell, it rained enough last week to finally give the grass something to do. Keith mowed the lawn yesterday for the first time in several weeks. After letting the grass dry on the ground, we did what we usually do with our own unsprayed grass clippings: fed some to the donkeys. They love it almost as much as hay. In fact, we've taken to calling our grass clippings "donkey grass." (By the way, in that photo above, Ambrose is chowing down on a thistle. Thistle are something else donkeys love, which you would know if you paid any attention to what Eeyore has to say in the Winnie-the-Pooh books.)
But back to the donkey grass. Early this evening, I raked up some grass and laid it down in two small piles, one each for Molly and Ambrose. They both started eating like usual, but then... Ambrose stopped eating and he made a noise. It was a noise like a cat makes when he's trying to cough up a hairball. His head was down, and he was moving his mouth and craning his neck and making throat-clearing sounds. I could hear a strange rumbling sound in his throat; it sounded as though he was going to be sick (and by sick, I mean send up some donkey barf), but instead he began foaming at the mouth, just horrible sheets of mucus and grass rolling out of his mouth and strands of thick mucus pouring from his nose.
My first concern was that he appeared to be breathing okay, if shallowly. His eyes also appeared to be fine - no dilated pupils, but in them you could see his concern and also his awareness.
I called for Keith to come and together we quickly ran through the list of possible causes for Ambrose's reaction. A poisonous plant didn't seem likely. The grass came from the middle of our lawn. He had only swallowed a small amount before experiencing symptoms - and Molly, having finished her own, was busy consuming the rest of his helping of grass.
Something seemed to be stuck in his throat. The distressing symptoms continued. We wiped away the thick mucus from his mouth and nose. I tried to see if he would take some water, but he refused.
Keith ran for the cordless phone, and I called the vet. It being Sunday evening, a recording instructed me to call an emergency number. The answering service took the call. "I have a miniature donkey in distress," I informed them. I described what was happening; they said the vet would return my call shortly.
While we waited for the call, we consulted our mini donk bible, Bonnie Gross' Caring for Your Miniature Donkey. Nothing seemed to match our situation.
Meanwhile, Ambrose was walking around, symptoms unabated. He walked into the barn, then out again. Then he went and stood in a corner of the manger before heading into one of the paddocks. Keith and Molly followed him and kept an eye on him, while I stayed within phone range. Keith and I were reassured that he seemed steady on his feet, even though he was helplessly spewing mucus everywhere he went.
The phone rang - it was the vet. I quickly outlined what had happened. She said that if his throat were obstructed, he would produce a flood of mucus. She said if he could relax and remain comfortable, he might be able to cough up the obstruction by himself, and she suggested massaging his neck to coax the obstruction up or down. We were already doing this, so appreciated confirmation that it might actually help. The vet also said it was important not to give him any food or water until his obstruction was clear (smart donkey! he didn't drink when I so much wanted him to). She already had two calls ahead of me and didn't think she could make it here for a couple of hours, so she gave me some other veterinarians to try calling and said she would check in later to see how Ambrose was doing.
Poor Ambrose! He looked so sad as he continued to pull his neck in, stretch it out, hack and snort, and even stamp a hoof to the ground in frustration, all while dribbles of snot ran from his nose. Molly stayed right with him, looking him in the eye and sniffing at his poor muzzle. He looked so small and vulnerable. And we felt vulnerable, too, thinking there was nothing we could really do to help him, our beloved pet.
After a while, Ambrose walked away again, and he seemed so much to want to be left alone, that we decided to keeps tabs on him from a distance. We told ourselves: maybe he needs a good hacking, throat-clearing cough and he doesn't want to do it with everyone watching. As it turns out, that just may be what happened, because inside of ten minutes, Ambrose was at the fence with Molly, looking and acting like his normal self - except for a certain amount of dried-on crustiness around his nose. On the way back to the barn, he even stepped lively in order to position himself well at the hay room door. As far as he was concerned, he was ready to pick up where he had left off. His entire ordeal lasted just over an hour. It seemed longer.
After we were convinced that he had fully recovered, we gave them both some hay - real hay, not "donkey grass." In fact, we're going to re-evaluate giving them lawn clippings again in the future.
If you would like to see one reason for our devotion to Ambrose, take a look at this tiny video clip of the little guy responding to our whistling for him: Ambrose_runs.AVI. What a sweet, perky, lovable fellow he is!