Tuesday, March 9, 2010

The Grazing Muzzle, or Why My Donkey Hates Me

Have any of you ever used a grazing muzzle on your horse, donkey, or pony?

I recently bought one for my donkey, Josie. She is the sweetest donkey in the entire world, pushing twenty years old, and I’ve owned her for nine years. I love her to pieces.

Last year, Josie suffered an unexpected bout of laminitis. Her pain and lameness were so severe, and continued for so long, that we even considered putting her down. But after several months of treatment, she very gradually got better, and is now (hallelujah) moving soundly. She was even playfully galloping around the pasture the other day.

Josie has always been on a grass hay and pasture diet, but I am assuming the laminitis was caused from years of having free access to pasture (which never seemed to give her any problems before.) The timing of the laminitis issue was puzzling, though, because her symptoms appeared at the end of a long hot summer, when all of our grass was dried up. But since lush pasture is the most common cause of founder/laminitis, I’m determined not to ever let it happen again, if there is anything I can possibly do about it.

So I am practicing tough love. At the beginning of March, (about a month earlier than predicted due to an early spring here in the Northwest) we fenced Josie off the pasture and built her a nice size corral, still with access to the barn. Here she will live (eating only grass hay) until the pasture becomes less lush and dangerous for the year, maybe around the end of June or possibly July. And I bought her a grazing muzzle, (which should only allow her to eat tiny amounts of grass) so that she can be turned out in the pasture from time to time, for exercise and access to her favorite rolling spots and a little social time with her buddy, my horse. Sounds like an ideal arrangement to me (but of course not to Josie.)

The instructions for the grazing muzzle say it should have one to two fingers of clearance all around the muzzle area, and be adjusted so there is a ½ to 1 inch space at the bottom. It appears to fit her well. Supposedly, she will learn to eat small amounts with it, grabbed through the small hole in the rubber bottom.

But here’s what happens when I fasten the grazing muzzle on Josie. She just stands there and stares at me with those big soulful eyes. She looks at me like I have rocks in my head. As if, why (since I love her) would I subject her to this weird form of bondage/torture device? Then she begins breathing heavily – a sound somewhere between Darth Vader and a dying rhinoceros.

I ignore Josie’s complaints and shoo her into the pasture. She puts her head down a little as if to graze, but can’t seem to figure out what to do. She ends up just standing in one place looking miserable, until after awhile I go and bring her back into her corral, where I can take the grazing muzzle off. I have been attempting this routine for about a week, leaving this contraption on for gradually longer and longer periods of up to almost two hours, and it doesn’t appear as if we are making any headway. Maybe she will just have to stay in the corral by herself after all, unless I take her out for a walk.

So my question for you, dear readers, is this: have any of you used a grazing muzzle successfully? (Or unsuccessfully?) How long did it take before your animal figured it out? I am trying so hard to do the right thing for this animal that I love, but I’m not sure if this method is working.

Also, a reminder - there is still time to enter two different contests for horse books over at my other blog www.lindabenson.blogspot.com/ Look for the posts dated Feb. 26th and March 1st.

Thanks in advance for your comments and/or advice on this grazing muzzle dilemma!


Anonymous said...

It sometimes takes them a while to figure it out - try feeding her handfuls of grass through the hole at the bottom, and then do the same while the grass you are holding is at ground level. Good luck, and it's great that you're taking such good care of her!

Unknown said...

First of all Fall/late summer grass can be and very much so is as dangerous or more dangerous than spring grass. See the carbohydrate like sugars in grasses called Fructans, build up and store in the grass anticipating the cold weather so they can try and live out as long as possible. With an animal prone to laminitis it's not wise to turn them out to freely eat grass until it is brown right down to the roots.
I would get a hay analysis on your hay to see how much sugar is really in it and possibly get your pasture tested. Since fructan levels fluctuate during the day turnout on grass is best in the wee hours of the day and highest in the afternoon. I would also test her for insulin resistance since shes aging and suddenly came upon this bout of laminitis. The two go hand in hand.
Heres a paper I wrote in university about grass founder http://bitlesshorse.blogspot.com/2008/10/grass-founder.html

Laura Crum said...

Linda--I don't know if this applies or not, but our older pony, Toby, had Cushings disease, and was diagnosed when he foundered (with a previous owner). Apparently unexplained founder (conditions have not changed--such as you describe with Josie) in an older horse is often an indicator of Cushings. I was told that I needed to keep Toby on meds for Cushings disease or he might founder again. (I did keep him on this medication--its not cheap--and he did well until he died of other causes. So you might check in with your vet about Cushings. I believe its diagnosed through a blood test.

Linda Benson said...

Kate - thanks for that advice. I will try that trick to help Josie figure out she can eat through the hole in the muzzle.

Sydney - thank you for a wonderful article. Yes, there is so much conflicting information out there on when the grass is okay to eat and when not. I appreciate your article very much. In fact, Josie did founder during the summer, when our grass was stressed from an unusually long, hot season, but (after the fact) I suspect she might have been harboring mild laminitis for some time, with barely any symptoms, and (because donkeys are such stoic creatures) I was unaware of it.

Laura - thanks. I will ask my vet about the possibility of Cushings.

And I received a private email (which I appreciate) suggesting fit of the muzzle. If Josie doesn't get used to the muzzle as it is, I may try loosening it or padding it to make it more comfortable.

I have raised donkeys for a long time in the Northwest (and bred spotted donkeys for awhile.) Because donkeys were originally desert animals, I believe they are prone to foot problems (i.e. abscesses, white line, founder, etc.) in this neck of the woods because of the abundance of pasture.

But I have to say, donkeys are some of the coolest equines in the world. They are amazing, calm companions for horses, they are hilarious to be around, they teach you a lot about kindness and patience, and if you ever get a chance to own one, go for it!

KB said...

Our pony, Polly, wore a grazing muzzle whenever her crest got that worrisome feeling to it, and when the first spring grass came in. She's now on a lease at a barn with little pasture, and I'm guessing she isn't missing her muzzle! She would give me such a dirty look when she'd see me coming with that thing, but she would go right back to "grazing" when it was put on.

Beth said...

I don't know any sadder eyes than a donkeys, even beats a spaniel. She is adorable though.

I am thinking of using grazing muzzles on some of my horses, ponies, and donkeys too. But I haven't yet.

My thought was do you have any black walnut trees around? I live in an area with a lot of them. One of my ponies stretched through fence to grab a few leaves from one last year and foundered. I now double and triple check the pasture to make sure that nothing is cropping up.

Linda Benson said...

KB and Beth - thanks for your comments. Beth, there is no black walnut near the pasture, but yes, I've heard that horses can founder even from standing in black walnut shavings.

Josie is quite good with the "poor me" look, and trying to get you to feel sorry for her. I turned her out with the muzzle again this afternoon, and although she still isn't getting the hang of eating with it, she is accepting it a little better. She had a nice roll in one of her favorite mud holes, and then ran bucking and braying up and down on a giant dirt pile quite a few times, acting pretty darn silly for a gal of her years.

It really does my heart good to see her able to run and move comfortably on all four feet again. So if I have to keep her off the grass, then I will do so. She means a lot to me.

C in WI said...

Try the "Tough 1 Easy Breathe" muzzle. It has bigger holes in front for breathing, and my horses seem to like it better. It's not as hot in the summer, which makes me feel better.

Linda Benson said...

C in Wi - Thank you SO much for your comment. I found a picture of the Easy Breath muzzle on-line, and it does have larger breathing holes (as well as a different shape grazing hole on the bottom.) I may try and retrofit the one I have (making the holes over Josie's nose bigger) and see if she likes it better. I really appreciate the information!

C in WI said...

Good, I hope it works out for you both. I was happy to find those, as I have two horses who get fat on thin air (or so it seems). :)

Unknown said...

The Easy Breathe muzzle is great. I used a regular muzzle on my Haflinger last summer and she would also get that mopey look and couldn't figure out what to do. So she spent most of the summer standing in the run-in. When I found the Easy Breathe, I hoped it would make a difference as I have no setup for dry lot (my horses are on pasture 24/7). But, she wears it 24/7 (almost) and even asks for me to put it back on after her "meals" (vitamin supp and some "anti-fat horse" stuff). Really! I think in her case it's because it is less constricting (the depth of the "basket is shorter) and she can breathe! Definitely recommend!

Linda Benson said...

Margit - thank you so much for the second recommendation for that brand. I think I will buy one for Josie. I did make the holes bigger in her existing grazing muzzle, but although she can breathe easier now, she still cannot graze with it, and plainly does not like it. I've been keeping her mostly in her dry lot pen, where she's doing well, but I would like to be able to turn her out more. So I'm going on-line shopping right now to buy one. Thanks!!

Anonymous said...

Sure hope your beautiful donkey adjusts to the Tough 1 Easy Breathe muzzle. I use them for my Haflingers who are HOOVERS when it comes to food. The first time Windy had it on he was hilarious for about 10 minutes. Ran from first one patch of grass to the next and kept stretching his neck out as if to flip the thing off. He came thundering back to the gate, stopped and looked at me, as if to say, "WHAT is this thing!?" He stood around for a minute, ran to the next spot, tried again to graze, and repeated this scene about a dozen times. And then he figured it out. I love it as he doesn't really need the grass for his nutrition, but for his mental health. I'd rather muzzle him so he can be out a long time each day rather than be stuck on the dry lot so much. To introduce the muzzle, I brought him out for grooming in the aisle, picked hooves, etc. for about 15 minutes. I put a couple drops of lavendar oil on the inside of the rubber muzzle--because the rubber stinks I think--and put it on him. He readily accepted it and smelled the oil for the few minutes it took for me to adjust the tension on the straps/buckles. I turned him out alone until he got the hang of the muzzle and then I put his pasture mate in. No problems. Wish you luck. I love the picture of you and your donkey.

Lynn said...

I have used grazing muzzles on 2 of my easy keeper horses for 7 years- after a founder and crsty necks. I too would rather them being moving about the pasture instead of standing in the dry lot. I muzzle them 12 hours daily and dry lot 12 hours with hay, to give their faces a rest. Mine too would glare at me And stomp in frustration when first introduced. Just think back on the misery of founder to remind you of why these products are godsends. With time they do accept them and quit glaring. Put it on, make sure all is adjusted and then simply walk away and do not look at their sulking! I likey the new Easy Breathe muzzles though I worry that the hole seems much larger than the Best Friend muzzles. If the grass is super scary, I use the older style with the smaller hole, but on days when temps are in the 90s I feel better about the Easy Breathe. I would like to see a food intake comparison between the older style muzzles and the new. Good luck. They will adjust. My non muzzled horse actually acts jealous and often comes up appearing to want his own muzzle. I did notice acceptance was much better once I muzzled 2 horses. Misery loves company etc! Hope this helps! . Lynn