The Path Lab is an important but little known corner of The Donkey Sanctuary. We are based at Brookfield Farm, one of the sites not open to the public, near Honiton. We are responsible for testing blood and dung samples taken from our donkeys and also from any donkeys and their companions around the UK. Samples may be sent to us for the purposes of routine screening, or to aid in the diagnosis of a disease/disorder.
The ‘blood lab’
At the Path Lab we have haematology, biochemistry, endocrinology and coagulation analysers. We run haematology and biochemistry on the blood samples that our vets take and send to us for the sick donkeys at the Sanctuary. Blood samples are received every day from external veterinary practices for donkeys and their companions, these samples are processed free of charge but a donation to the Sanctuary is always appreciated. Haematology and biochemistry are run on these as routine and the results emailed or faxed through to the veterinary practice the same day that the blood samples are received. We also perform endocrinology and coagulation tests at the Path Lab but these are not done routinely and need to be specifically requested by a vet. For endocrinology we run Insulin and Adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH). The vets use these results to look for Cushing’s syndrome, Equine Metabolic Syndrome (EMS) and laminitis. Tests are performed in batches roughly twice a month depending on the number of samples received. The coagulation analyser produces results for fibrinogen and prothrombin which are very important parts of the blood clotting process. These results are useful for the vets to diagnose coagulation disorders such as liver disease and renal disease.
The ‘dung lab’
In the Path Lab we have a room which we like to call the ‘Dung lab’ dedicated to parasitology. This is where we process all the faecal samples that we receive from donkeys inside and outside the Sanctuary. From the donkeys that come into our Isolation Unit and the external dungs sent from vet practices the laboratory technicians perform a ‘full profile’ on them. The parasites that we look for whilst performing full profiles are lungworm, liver fluke, tapeworm, ascarids and strongyles. This is done to make sure that we do not bring in parasites onto our pastures. At the Sanctuary all the farms are tested at least every 8 weeks for their strongyle count using the McMaster technique. At the lab we also use the McMaster technique for the strongyle count on the faecal samples sent in by the foster owners for their donkeys.
Other services provided
Other services that we provide at the Path Lab are urine analysis, cytology e.g. peritoneal fluid, hair samples which we test for ringworm and look for lice, blood occult and the SNAP Foal IgG test. Any other tests that are requested by the Sanctuary or external vets are packaged by the laboratory technicians and sent by post to external laboratories. From samples sent in for donkeys out on foster this service is provided free of charge.
The post mortem room
Another service that we provide at the Path Lab is the collection and post mortem (PM) examination of the donkeys that sadly have to be put to sleep at the Sanctuary. We have a van which has been specifically designed for the (discreet) collection of the donkeys and a member of staff trained to drive the van. We perform a PM examination on every donkey that is put to sleep at the Sanctuary. These PMs are usually done by a pathologist and a PM room assistant. The information and knowledge that we gather from these PMs is input into our database system and has a profound effect on the research and lives of the donkeys at the Sanctuary. An example of this is the reduction in fatal impaction colic cases by 70% following changes made to feeding management flagged up as the result of a PM-based study. Hundreds of donkeys have since benefitted from this knowledge and we are also able to advise donkey-owners, allowing them to make informed choices about what is best for their donkey’s health.