Researchers at the Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine are seeking help from owners to better understand an emerging donkey disease: besnoitiosis.

According to SallyAnne L. Ness, DVM, a large animal internal medicine resident at Cornell, researchers are seeking potentially affected donkeys to study as well as herds of donkeys to test for the presence of the virus.

"In the fall of 2010, two Pennsylvania donkeys were donated to the Cornell University Hospital for Animals after samples sent to the Pennsylvania Animal Diagnostic Laboratory revealed infection with Besnoitia bennetti—a rare protozoan parasite closely related to Sarcocystis, Toxoplasma, and Neospora," Ness explained in an informational article she penned. "In the wake of those two cases, researchers at Cornell University have diagnosed multiple infected donkeys across several Northeastern states, plus Tennessee, Texas, Minnesota, Michigan, Oregon, and Washington. As the number of identified cases continues to grow, it appears that besnoitiosis may be emerging as an important infectious disease of donkeys in the United States."

Affected donkeys develop tiny cysts (about 1 mm in diameter) in various external locations including the face, legs, ears, and perineum, and internally in the nasopharynx. Currently, there are no treatment options available.

"There are currently studies under way at Cornell University investigating epidemiological risk factors for the development and transmission of besnoitiosis within donkey populations," Ness said. "Additionally, the utility of serology as a diagnost