Equine obesity is becoming all too common amongst horses, ponies and donkeys…BUT weight loss does not equal starving your horses and ponies. Sudden and rapid reduction in feed intake can lead to a serious and potentially life threatening condition called Hyperlipaemia.

Ponies & donkeys are particularly prone to developing hyperlipaemia. Hyperlipemia is in fact the most common metabolic disorder in donkeys.

Predisposing factors for hyperlipemia include conditions leading to a negative energy balance (eg, anorexia, starving), increased energy demands (late pregnancy, lactation), and concurrent diseases (eg, stress, endotoxemia, parasitism, liver disease, gastrointestinal disease, laminitis). One study in 449 hyperlipemic donkeys found that most animals had a concurrent disease (72%), of which liver disease (19.4%) and colic (13.8%) were the most common.

During periods of reduced feed intake, fat stores are mobilised which overwhelm the liver leading to fat being released into the blood. The end result is large amounts of circulating triglycerides and fat deposition in the liver, leading to liver dysfunction.

Hyperlipemia is usually secondary to other conditions. Therefore, delayed prevention or recognition may complicate outcome. Initial clinical signs in hyperlipemic donkeys are the result of the primary condition. Depression and anorexia are the most common findings specific to hyperlipemia.

Signs of hyperlipaemia include : depression, reduced feed intake, colic, yellow mucous membranes, fever and a “wobbly” gait.

Hyperlipemia is easily diagnosed by routinely measurement of serum triglyceride concentrations in sick or at-risk donkeys. It can even be diagnosed in the field using handheld monitors.

Blood sample taken from a donkey with hyperlipemia (left), compared to a healtky donkey (right). Note the milky colored plasma due to high levels of circulating triglyceride.

This is an extremely serious condition which must be treated with veterinary intervention promptly and aggressively.

The main goal of treatment is to stop fat mobilization, control the underlying disease, avoid stressful conditions, and restore a positive energy balance. Hyperlipemic donkeys and ponies should be encouraged to eat by offering a variety of high-caloric foodstuff (eg, honey, apples, carrots) that may stimulate hunger. Based on one author’s experience, oral honey (5–6 times a day) can stimulate appetite in some animals. Donkeys seem to like ginger snap biscuits and these can be used to help encourage an inappetant donkey to begin eating.

Any pony or donkey that stops eating should be considered a medical emergency. Contact us immediately on 0427 072 095 so we can help prevent the development of hyperlipemia.

The mortality rate is high when liver dysfunction is present (60-100%).