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By Louisa Shepard

Equine veterinarians working on a puzzling case often say they are looking for “the zebra in the horse.” The vets at Penn Vet’s New Bolton Center have been looking for the Zeus with Nikki and Kelseyzebra in the zebra.

Zeus, a five-month-old zebra colt, was admitted in August after collapsing on a farm in Annapolis, MD. He was disoriented and unable to stand on his own. Zeus’ primary veterinarian, Michelle Abraham, BVSc, BVMS, a resident in large-animal internal medicine, ran several tests and diagnostic procedures, including a spinal tap, ultrasound, x-rays, and repeated blood work. Ultimately, Dr. Abraham and Zeus’ veterinary team - supervised by Amy Johnson, DVM, a large-animal neurologist - determined that he had a vitamin E deficiency that most likely caused Equine Degenerative Myeloencephalopathy (EDM). The condition is occasionally   seen in young horses.

“The condition can cause damage to the spinal cord and other parts of the central nervous system, including the brainstem,” Dr. Abraham said, adding that while a deficiency of vitamin E is most likely the cause, there is now strong evidence supporting a genetic predisposition to the disease in horses, and perhaps even in zebras.

Zeus was administered intravenous fluids for hypoglycemia and his feed was changed Zeus in his stalland supplemented with vitamin E. In addition, Zeus had sustained corneal ulcers to both eyes because he was not blinking properly and was likely traumatizing his eyes when lying down. Mary Utter, DVM, PhD, and Nikki Scherrer, DVM, from New Bolton Center’s Ophthalmology Service, placed  subpalpebral lavage systems around Zeus’ head. Made with flexible tubing, these systems administered medication to each of Zeus’ eyes to treat and prevent further infection. He also was treated for gastrointestinal parasites.

“He’s doing great. We are so glad we brought him here,” said Nikki Lawson, co-owner of the zebra with her sister, Kelsey Lawson. “New Bolton Center has so many resources and the veterinarians have taken such great care of him.”

Happily, Zeus appears to have avoided any major damage. He was discharged in mid-August and his neurologic condition improved markedly. Returning for a check-up this week, he is visibly better, gaining weight and muscle. His eyes are healing, but still require medication. Ongoing treatment includes rest and a special feed designed for young, growing horses, with a vitamin E supplement.

Though New Bolton Center is well-known for providing care for horses, the hospital also treats a wide variety of animals, ranging from cattle to sheep to alpacas, as well the occasional zoo animal. Zeus was Dr. Abraham’s first zebra patient, affording her the opportunity to take a closer look at a species related to, but very different from, the horse.

Dr. Michelle Abraham looks on at Zeus“We are dealing with a non-domesticated animal,” Dr. Abraham said, noting that the physiology, diseases, references for blood work, and many other aspects vary between zebras and horses. “The temperament is different. They are very unpredictable, sensitive animals. ”

The 150-pound zebra with soft brown and cream stripes was a bit of a celebrity during his stay at New Bolton Center, drawing groups of curious clinicians and staff members. But Zeus is accustomed to being the center of attention. The Lawson sisters feature him, along with several ponies, in their business, Cowgirl Up Pony Parties, based in Annapolis, MD. Thanks to the expert care he received at New Bolton Center, Zeus will soon return to the spotlight.

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