CVM saves miniature zebu

A little hay, lots of scratching and life-saving treatment

Brutus the miniature zebu is on the mend after sickness from surprising toxin

By Sarah Carey

Acorns make a tasty snack for squirrels, but for cattle, these nuts are toxic. Mark and Rachel Duncan discovered this in November, when their miniature zebu Brutus became extremely ill.

“He’d had a two-day history of lethargy, not eating and constipation,” said Rob MacKay, BV.Sc., Ph.D., a professor of large animal medicine at UF. “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.”

Bloodwork and ultrasound revealed that Brutus had acute kidney injury.

“On further discussion with the owners, 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.”

After initial treatments did not improve his kidney damage, UF’s large animal veterinarians consulted with Carsten Bandt, D.V.M., chief of the college’s small animal emergency and critical care service, about the possibility of hemodialysis, a therapy used to filter toxins out of the blood when the kidneys cannot.

“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,” said Sarah Reuss, V.M.D., a clinical assistant professor of large animal medicine at UF and one of the veterinarians who treated the animal.

The small animal dialysis team at UF then quickly prepared and inserted a special dialysis catheter into Brutus, who received his first hemodialysis session on Nov. 20.

“He tolerated it like a superstar, quietly standing with hay and lots of scratching,” Reuss said.

Overnight, Brutus seemed comfortable and was eating more. After just over a week of treatment at UF, during which time he received two hemodialysis treatments — and became possibly the most doted-on animal ever to be a part-time resident of the UF Small Animal Hospital’s intensive care unit — Brutus was discharged Nov. 28 with close to-normal kidney values and every expectation of complete recovery.

Rachel Duncan said their family fell in love with miniature zebus while attending a festival in Bushnell. The world’s smallest breed of cattle, miniature zebus are relatively rare, exotic animals that are frequently kept as pets. Some, such as Brutus, are even trained for the show ring. The Duncans plan to show Brutus at the state fair in Tampa in February.

Now, the Duncans also hope to reach out to the zebu community to raise awareness about acorn toxicity.