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A donkey allergic to hay? You don’t say!

Posted by Caileigh Robertson, Communications

Sam the miniature donkey. Photo by Dennis Dow/WPZ.

Sneezes, sniffles and itchiness are all signs of allergies in humans and, as research indicates, they’re common symptoms in allergic animals too—especially for one miniature donkey at Woodland Park Zoo.

Sam, one of our two mini donkeys living at the Family Farm, is allergic to hay! Zookeepers noticed him becoming itchy around hay, which serves as feed for Sam and his herd mate, Rico. Sam continuously rubbed and scratched against posts in his Family Farm barn, and his coat became short and thin. After a blood test came back confirming his hay allergy, our keepers and animal health team crafted a treatment plan to reduce his symptoms and ease his discomfort.

Photo by Ric Brewer/WPZ.

Keepers promptly switched Sam’s feed to Bermuda grass hay, which doesn’t trigger allergic reactions like Timothy grass, commonly known for its pollen allergen. Although Sam experiences itchy side effects from exposure to Timothy grass, Rico indulges in it without trouble—though, they’re known to sneak a few bites one another’s hay. (Allergies or not, the grass is greener on the other side. Pun intended.)

Like many humans patients, Sam also receives routine allergen immunotherapy, or allergy vaccines, to help build immunity against allergens and reduce symptoms over time. Keepers train with him regularly to familiarize him with the vaccination process, allowing Sam to best anticipate each step in his care plan (especially the apple at the end).

Photo by Dennis Dow/WPZ.

Within weeks of receiving his initial immunotherapy treatment, Sam’s constant itching slowly subsided and his coat grew back healthy and lustrous. As a result of this proactive approach to Sam’s healthcare, the miniature donkey’s hay allergy has cleared up well.

Photo by Mat Hayward/WPZ.

Within the health community, clinical overlaps between humans and animals—like allergies—are strong indications of how local and global environments affect the health of all species. Case studies of human-animal health relations span all corners of the medical industry, including obesity, cancer, geriatric health and more.

During the 2014 Zoobiquity conference, held at Woodland Park Zoo and the University of Washington on Nov. 1, veterinarians, physicians and environmental health experts will explore case studies and interactive presentations of human-animal health to demonstrate how a species-spanning approach to health and medicine can improve human, animal and environmental health.