Case Story - Romeo, Dwarf Donkey
The following submission from a member also appeared in an issue of the BRAYER magazine, along with photos of the donkey.  We are grateful to Romoe's owner for allowing us to identify him and use his photos for reference.


Dear Ms. Patton:
I am writing in response to ADMS's request for comments regarding dwarfism in miniature donkeys. I hope that the anecdotal information below proves helpful to your research committee. Romeo, a miniature donkey jack, was born to unregistered parents on June 2, 2003. The height of the jack and jenny averaged 34 inches and 36 inches, respectively. Both parents had average confirmation with good limb structure. Although the foal was smaller than previous offspring from this pair, and somewhat cow hocked and monkey mouthed, Romeo was energetic and playful for his first three summer months.

I took possession of Romeo on October 8, 2003. In addition, I purchased a jennet born on June 6, 2003 from a separate breeder. Both donkeys were fed Bermuda hay and sweet feed twice per day. Also, each donkey had free-choice pasture available, which included mixed grasses and legumes. The growth and development differences between the two donkeys became apparent toward the end of October. While the jennet thrived and grew, Romeo started to develop a huge belly, appear awkward, and seem lethargic. The jennet's manure was formed and compact; however, his was never clearly formed. He suffered from diarrhea often. I tried an anti-diarrhea medication, but I saw no improvement. Worried that I might be fighting a parasite problem, I wormed both of them on October 15 and November 8. Romeo's energy level fell, as well as his weight, especially around his chest, spine, and hips. He also appeared more awkward, cow hocked, and bloated. I contacted the breeder and the vet for advice. I followed their advice and gave him probiotics and yogurt, as we thought he might be having problems with digestion.
His conditioned worsened, and I drove him to the veterinarian's office. I brought with me samples of the jennet's and Romeo's stools. Clearly, Romeo's stool sample was coarse and unformed, while the jennet's stool was compact. Both were worm free. Blood was drawn for analysis and, interestingly, test results revealed he was not processing protein despite being fed a varied and abundant diet. The veterinarian recommended that I include Foal-lac pellets and calf manna pellets in his diet. I decided to give him mini meals through out the day and early evening. I carefully monitored food intake between the two donkeys and separated them during feedings. Romeo's condition continued on a downward spiral, and I thought I would lose him
around Christmas.\

Fortunately, I contacted Janice Wolf, a former vet tech and animal rehabilitator. A long-term member of ADMS and an owner of miniature donkeys, Ms. Wolf's knowledge of alternative treatments for animals helped Romeo. After I described Romeo's clinical history, she brought up the possibility of dwarfism. Then on a subsequent visit to see Romeo, Ms. Wolf confirmed her earlier suspicion of dwarfism. I took her advice and added Ration Plus and vitamin E to his diet to help him with digestion and immune function. In addition, I added MSM for his joints. Later, I learned that previously Romeo's dam had given birth to a very small foal that had died at three to four weeks of age. The veterinarian thought the cause of death was an inherited intestinal disorder.

Per Ms. Wolf's suggestion, I researched miniature horse dwarfism on the Internet. Some of the articles mentioned dwarfism characteristics of both miniature horses and donkeys. Romeo appeared to have many dwarfism characteristics. Barbara Ashly's Miniature Horse World June/July article was particularly helpful. I struggled with helping Romeo gain muscle and weight. Sometimes he did not want to eat. His head became more dome shaped and heavy, which made him carry his head lower than a normal donkey. I subsequently reduced Romeo's milk and calf manna pellets and replaced them with Nutrena Senior to aid Romeo's digestion and Vitality 14 to help increase his weight and give him energy. Ms. Wolf helped select a vitamin B supplement, Fast Track, to increase his appetite.
In November of 2004, my vet administered fall shots and pulled Coggins on our horses and Romeo. His dwarfism by this time was even more evident:
1. -monkey mouth
2. disproportionate head to body
3. extremely cow hocked/crossed legs causing tripping and falling at times
4. knobby joints
5. front legs shorter than rear legs
6. huge bloated belly
7. retained testicles
8. domed head
9. short neck with low head carriage
10. ewe neck
11. extreme lack of muscle development along chest, top line, and croup

Also, he had a permanent hard swelling to the left of center under his neck about four inches from his jowl that was the size of a ping pong ball, and he suffered from very crusty eyes most days. However, we have no explanation for these particular signs.

Although my veterinarian had only seen dwarf calves, when presented with my research he conceded that Romeo was indeed a dwarf. My donkey's physical changes over the past year were undeniable to the veterinarian. He was in agreement with Romeo's present dietary program. Romeo's manure is now more compact, which indicates that he is digesting more food and utilizing nutrients. My vet also suggested that I get Romeo a blanket for the winter and keep a heat source on him at night, since he was still thin. My vet is very compassionate and understands how much I love my little donkey.

Unfortunately, he indicated that dwarves do not live as long as regular donkeys. We agreed to continue monitoring his demeanor and quality of life through out the winter months.
Romeo, standing at 32 1/2 inches at the shoulder, has many friends-human and animal-and is much loved. His best buddy is a sixteen hand Tennessee Walker gelding. He has an active social life and is beloved by his equine friends. In addition, he has a corner of the barn which is exclusively his should he need shelter or quiet time. Romeo is affectionate toward humans and regularly steals gloves and pulls on shoelaces.

While obviously not considered breeding stock, Romeo warms the hearts of those who meet him.

I have included photos that trace Romeo's development during the past year and a half. I hope that my information proves helpful to your committee.
Sincerely,

Hilary Shew
Mountain Home, Arkansas
Romeo in silhouette, as used on the Proportions pages.

How we created the horse/donkey silhouettes:

Real photos of real live animals were used.  The background was blocked out in white, then the outline of the animal was filled in darker using both tone adjustment and a "paintbrush" tool where needed. 
Romeo, Above, "typical" donkey silhouette, below.
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Romeo, Dwrf Donkey Case Study