Zebu’s Illness Was Tough Nut to Crack

Acorns were the root cause of kidney failure in a miniature zebu that was successfully treated at the University of Florida.

Sluggishness, inappetence and constipation were the clinical signs. Acorns were the cause.

A miniature zebu, the world’s smallest cattle breed, is recovering at home after University of Florida veterinarians treated the animal for kidney failure, which they believe was brought on by his taste for acorns.

The zebu, named Brutus, underwent hemodialysis in what the university stated may have been the first time for a bovine patient with acute disease.

The life-threatening episode began Nov. 18, when 1-year-old Brutus was brought to the Gainesville, Fla., hospital.

“He’d had a two-day history of lethargy, not eating and constipation,” said Rob MacKay, BVSc, Ph.D., Dipl. ACVIM, a professor of large animal medicine. “When he arrived at UF, his vital signs were stable, but he was not having the stomach contractions that move food from the stomach into the intestines, and he wasn’t producing urine. He also was lethargic and trembling.”

Blood work and ultrasound revealed acute kidney injury, Dr. MacKay said. The “aha!” moment came during a discussion with owners Mark and Rachel Duncan of Ocoee, Fla.

“It was revealed that there were oak trees in Brutus’ pasture and that they had seen him eating acorns,” MacKay said. “Unfortunately, unbeknownst to his owners, oak leaves and acorns are toxic to cattle, causing both renal and gastrointestinal damage.”

What followed were intravenous fluids, diuretics and rumen transfaunation, or the transfer of digestive material from a donor steer to improve appetite and stomach motility.

“Fluid balance is very challenging in these patients, as it is easy to give them too much fluid if their kidneys can’t excrete it,” said Sarah Reuss, VMD, Dipl. ACVIM, a clinical assistant professor of large animal medicine. “He did begin to pass urine, but his indicators of kidney failure continued to increase.”

The university reported that the large animal team consulted with Carsten Bandt, DVM, chief of the college’s small animal emergency and critical care service, about the possibility of hemodialysis.

“To the best of our knowledge, this procedure has never previously been performed on a bovine patient outside of a research setting, but Brutus was the perfect candidate based upon his condition of acute toxicity, his size and his very agreeable temperament,” Dr. Reuss said.

The first hemodialysis session was conducted Nov. 20, and Brutus “tolerated it like a superstar,” Reuss said. An additional session and a week’s stay in the UF Small Animal Hospital intensive care unit led to Brutus’ release Nov. 28.

The rare animal is scheduled for a showing in February at the state fair in Tampa. His near-death experience and a warning about acorn toxicity will be shared with other zebu owners, Rachel Duncan said.

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