Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Our Little Angel

In my post earlier today I mentioned that we had a sad event over the weekend: the loss of Suzie's newborn filly. I thought I'd share the circumstances surrounding this loss, not to gain sympathy, but as a teaching tool, because the filly suffered from a relatively rare, but preventable birth defect: Overo Lethal White Syndrome.

I want to make it clear that there is controversy surrounding this defect. This post is not a declaration of what is right and what is wrong, but rather, my own recent experience and the facts of the situation. I'm not here to judge what other breeders do--it's not my place and I've always felt people have to do right for their own programs.

Due to this controversy I've considered not even blogging about this event, but I've never been one to ignore an opportunity to teach. I've researched Lethal White on the internet quite a bit, but I've never seen any first-hand accounts of a Lethal White birth (and death). I just hope by reading my experience others can make an informed decision regarding the risks of breeding two lethal white positive (or untested) horses.

On Sunday morning, about 11:30am, Suzie gave birth to a beautiful, all-white filly.

I knew even before she was all the way out, that we had a possible "lethal white."

Overo Lethal White Syndrome is a solid white or nearly solid white foal born of parents with an overo coat pattern. OWLS has been tied to the frame overo pattern in particular, but this pattern can be minimally expressed in a way that it is possible for a solid-colored horse to producer a lethal white foal. On the other extreme, a tovero, or a horse that expresses both the overo and tobiano genes, may also produce a lethal white foal.

OLWS foals are born with an incomplete digestive system. Within hours of birth they will show signs of colic due to their inability to pass feces. The birth defect is always fatal--attempts to surgically correct the problem have been unsuccessful due to the extensive nature of the defect.

These foals appear healthy at birth, will stand, nurse, and do everything a normal newborn foal will do, except for the birth defect. It's only after a few hours that the foals begin to show signs of their internal deformaties, and they begin to colic.

It was at this point, when this beautiful filly began to colic, that I knew I could not let her suffer needlessly, when there was no hope of recovery, so she was humanely destroyed.

For me, it seemed like such a waste. She had one bright, sunny day on earth and that was it.

The worst was watching poor Suzie follow her sick baby around, unsure what to do, then mourn her when she was euthanized. She didn't leave her filly for 24 hours, and she might have stayed longer had I not made her move in with the girls so I could bury her baby.

Of course, the obvious question is, how could something like this be prevented? Never breeding overos? Not neccessarily. There are plenty of overos out there who are negative for lethal white. The best thing to do is test: UC Davis Horse Coat Color Testing

This foal was not Eddie's, but Eddie is tested and he is positive. He has never produced a lethal, but genetically he could. Suzie was pregnant when she came to me, so I had no control over this situation, but due to Suzie obviously carrying the gene, I will not be breeding her to Eddie.

As I said, I'm not here to judge anyone (I want to make that much clear), but for me, I cannot accept the risk and the consequences of this sort of gamble.

I pulled this filly out of her momma, dried her off, helped her stand and nurse, treated her umbilicle stub, she nickered at me when I went to go check on her, then I tried to soothe her as she started to decline and get sick, I held her momma when she was put to sleep, I walked around her stark-white body as I tried to feed and comfort her momma, then a day later I wrapped her up in plastic and buried her beside Petie and Chic.

I can't do that again--not for this reason. I just don't have it in me.


Sydney said...

I have seen a lethal white once.
So sad. I think it's irresponsible that the old owners bred her without testing her. So sad.
I know our local paint breeders (check out raider paints and IMA quick dream maker) only breed solid quarterhorses. Audry explained it last year to my 4-h kids. Such a sad thing, lethal whites are.

Jennifer MacNeill-Traylor said...

Oh my gosh, I am so sorry. This is the saddest thing I've read all week. And she was such a cute little thing too. Poor momma, poor you. My sympathies.

Anonymous said...

I hope you and Suzie are doing better, I really am very sorry for your loss. Let me know if there is anything I can help with on this side of things, happy to just listen too. Love you cuz!

Jessie McCandless said...

Thank you, all. Suzie is thankfully doing great, but I still feel terrible for her. I've lost 2 other foals and it never gets any easier.

Krazy Cindy said...

I know I'm late to comment, but I'm very sorry for the loss of your lovely filly. It certainly does highlight the importance of testing for genetic diseases with known markers. Hugs from me!

mydanes said...

Great of you to share your story. I do want to clarify one fact. All overo horses carry one copy of the 0 and one n nO and the problem comes when you breed to another overo and thus 25% of the time BOTH parents will throw the O and thus the heartbreaking ordeal you were faced with. I have Overo's as well. I ONLY breed Overo to Solid horses that have NO O gene or tobiano horses with no O gene. Thanks again for sharing!

Anonymous said...

I am so sorry about your loss and mommas loss. I have a few horses and first learned of this syndrome when I thought about breeding my paint mare. I was just back here researching Lethal Whites again as my friends mare had a foal and I havent seen him yet but from what she tells me its sounding like it could possibly be the same situation. Neither parent is a paint and they are ponies but they are both Palaminos. Really hoping it is an albino baby but they said they havent seen him poop yet, they have someone coming today to check him out