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.