Reindeer ready for the holidays after treatment at Cornell animal hospital

A five-month-old reindeer named Little Buddy is back home and on the mend after life-saving treatment at Cornell University’s equine and farm animal hospital, including a blood transfusion from his brother, Moose.

“Some reindeer live a bit south of the North Pole,” began the announcement from Cornell University. Little Buddy and his brother Moose live on a small farm in Shortsville, between Ithaca and Rochester, and last month, owner Mike Schaertl noticed Little Buddy was sick. The family realized the reindeer had lost his energy and had no interest in eating his favorite beet pulp or playing with his brother.

Dr. Melissa Fenn (r) with Little Buddy. Photo courtesy Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine.

“When I came home from work one day to check on Little Buddy, I noticed his urine was dark red,” Schaertl explained. “That’s when I realized this was a serious problem.”

The Schaertls’ veterinarian, Dr. Michael Carey, himself a reindeer owner, referred the patient right away to the Cornell University Equine and Nemo Farm Animal Hospital. By the time Little Buddy arrived in Ithaca, his condition had worsened: He was lethargic and had a very high fever, according to the vet hospital.

Dr. Melissa Fenn, a large animal internal medicine resident, worked to stabilize Little Buddy with oxygen and fluids, and initial bloodwork led to a diagnosis of Babesiosis, a potentially fatal parasitic tick-borne disease.

Little Buddy with brother and herdmate Moose, at right. Photo courtesy Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine.

Dr. Fenn and her team ordered medication to combat the parasite and monitored the patient overnight in the intensive care unit, but by morning, he was significantly more lethargic. “We were very worried about Little Buddy. Most reindeer that present to the hospital with this disease do not survive,” said Fenn. Anemia meant his tissues weren’t getting an adequate amount of oxygen, which meant he’d need a blood transfusion.

Enter Moose, who had traveled to Ithaca with his brother to provide moral support; according to Cornell, reindeer are social creatures who gain comfort from being in their herd. Moose also made a perfect blood donor for a transfusion. After a liter of blood and a day of recovery, Little Buddy could stand and began eating again, and he steadily showed signs of improvement. By the sixth day, Cornell says, the reindeer brothers were playing, and Little Buddy’s bloodwork looked better. He no longer needed oxygen, and could be moved out of Cornell’s ICU.

Little Buddy meeting kids back home at the Schaertl farm. Photo courtesy of the Schaertl Family.

Dr. Fenn says the reindeer needed some adjustments to their accommodations, usually used as equine stalls. The usual stalls feature bars and grillwork that could pose a hazard to reindeer antlers. They ended up using a padded equine stall, with large box fans to help bring in cool air to keep the reindeer in comfortable conditions. “The hospital team was so creative and came up with a great solution to keep him as comfortable as possible during his recovery,” Dr. Fenn says.

Cornell’s Nemo Farm Animal Hospital is named after “a very special former patient,” a 730-pound pig who at the age of 4 needed lymphoma treatment, which hadn’t been tried in swine.

“After a week, it became clear Little Buddy would make a full recovery,” Cornell tells us. Both reindeer were discharged with a clean bill of health, and the Schaertl family threw a barn-warming community celebration at which several hundred friends and well-wishers welcomed them home.

We’re happy to report this Christmas Eve that Little Buddy is ready for whatever the holiday might demand, from greeting kids to backup sleigh duties.

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