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  • Kim Milikowski

Managing White Line Disease and Abscesses in Donkeys

Updated: Aug 29

Every year it is inevitable that a few of our donkeys get white line disease or seedy toe as it is also called. I like to blame it on a wet spring with a lot of mud but this year has been extra dry. Our lawn is almost completely brown. The donkey pens are dusty. The donkeys all get regular trims. We are still treating a handful of donkeys for white line disease. Bottom line is donkeys

are just prone to white line disease.

Moon, our mammoth donkey, has been plagued with hoof issues since she moved here to Connecticut from Tennessee a few years ago. Several times each year she gets terrible abscesses mostly in her front feet but sometimes in the hind feet. They burst through her coronet band or through the sole of her hoof. We usually have our farrier come out to open them to drain as they are deep in her hoof. White line disease always seems to be in each hoof. We had imaging taken at one point and it looked like she might have a keratoma on her coffin bone on one front foot that was causing the abscesses. If it was not removed the abscesses would keep coming back. She got better so we waited, wanting her to be sound for the surgery.


Moon has always been overweight. We had a blood panel done and learned that she needed thyroid medication to increase her metabolism. We started her on Thyro-L which is used for correction of conditions associated with hypothyroidism. Our farrier, Vikki Fortier, suggested adding Farrier's Formula®Double Strength which is a pelleted hoof and coat supplement that can be added as a top dressing on the regular feed or given separately. It provides nutrients such as phospholipids, omega fatty acids, vitamins, minerals, and important amino acid “protein building blocks” for a healthy hoof and hair coat. We moved her to a dry lot for weight management. Her hay was cut back, much to her dismay, and we added straw to keep her busy without adding calories. We also added Poulin Grain Balancer https://www.poulingrain.com/products/182 because she was not getting nutrition from grass in the pasture.


There was one point in late spring that Moon had abscesses in a front foot and the diagonal back foot. She was overweight and laying in her pen for much of the day due to the pain in her feet. That was when we decided to take her to Tuft's to have the keratoma removed. Laying down like that, especially being overweight, was not good for her. It could damage organs. We would nurse her back to soundness and make the appointment for the surgery.


Fast forward and Moon was on her way to Tuft's to see Dr. Kirsten Bubeck, equine limb specialist. More imaging was done and it was determined that she did not have a keratoma but did have severe white line disease in every hoof and large cavities in one front hoof and one hind foot where abscesses had been. They soaked both of these feet daily and conducted a radical debriding of all white line affected tissue. They also drill a hole through the corner of her bar on the sole of her front hoof through to the outside of the wall on the exterior side of her hoof. Without opening this up another abscess was likely to develop in this area.


This foot is now wrapped dry to allow the hoof to grow without lodging any dirt in these areas that could spawn a new abscess.


There was a similar cavity in her hind foot that kept abscessing. This abscess ruptured through the outside of her coronary band. It was opened from the sole through the coronary band.


We continue with Balancer, Farriers' Formula and Thyro-L daily. It has now been 4 weeks since her visit to Tuft's and Moon is doing terrific. She is rarely laying down and even broke into a canter in her paddock yesterday which we had never seen! The next phase will be incorporating an exercise program to take more weight off once the hoof wall becomes stable as it grows out.




What have we learned?


We keep around 60 donkeys at our farm. All are mini donkeys except for Moon. Some are on lush pasture, some in pens with no grass and some in pens with limited grass. Donkeys in each area have presented with abscesses and white line disease. The majority have been average weight or a little heavy but a few have been a little under weight. No donkeys under 3 years old have presented with either.


We trim the donkeys frequently and spray the bottom of the hooves after the trim with an anti-bacterial/anti-fungal solution, Banixx. An iodine solution could also be applied. We trim the mini donkeys ourselves most of the time. This makes it possible to trim any time we see a donkey with a little hoof growth. Our farrier trims our entire herd a couple times a year to make sure all is in order. Trimming more frequently has been key to minimize the white line disease. We make sure all white line compromised tissue is removed with a hoof knife. If the deterioration is too deep we have the farrier come out and clean it out. We have had minimal white line and abscesses since implementing these changes. It is hard to determine what resolved Moon's severe hoof issues as there were so many aspects to her treatment. We will keep Moon on the same supplements and program indefinitely.


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