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toxins may lurk in the shadows of your barn By Eleanor Blazer © 2010

the way of the horse One of the world’s

most powerful toxins may be living in your barn or pasture. This toxin, clostrid-

ium botulinum, is commonly known as botulism. One microgram is le-

thal, and there are a 1, 000,000 micrograms in a gram. A dime weighs about a gram, so it doesn’t take much. Botulism toxicity

kills 70% of untreated adult horses. Nearly 90% of all af- fected foals will die. In adult horses the

first sign of botulism toxicity may be dysphagia – difficulty in swallowing. The affected horse may drop water and feed from the mouth. He will have an appetite, but be unable to eat or drink. Other symptoms include weakness, depression, muscle tremors, inability to move or a stiff choppy gait when mov- ing, respiratory stress, dilated pupils, colic or constipation. The symptoms may progress quickly, or occur over several days. The amount of toxin in- gested affects the severity and progression of the symptoms. The symptoms of

botulism poisoning can mimic other diseases. Tetanus, rabies, lead poisoning and equine protozoal encephalomyelitis (EPM) are a few. The veteri- narian should be able to rule out most of these illnesses based on observing the central ner- vous system, asking about the horse’s general health and the events leading up to the onset of the symptoms. Horses that are ex-

posed to a large amount of the toxin may be found dead with no previous symptoms. An affected foal will

have trouble swallowing; milk will run out of the mouth when trying to nurse. The foal will

lay around an abnormal amount of time, with the head resting on the ground. As time passes the foal will become weaker and develop muscle tremors. The term “shaker foal syndrome” is a common name for the disease in foals.

The veterinarian will

try to rule out other foal illness- es such as selenium deficiency, polyarthritis, hypoglycemia and septicemia (navel ill). Diagnosing botulism

may come too late to treat the killer. It takes time to run the tests and results can be inconclusive. If a veterinarian suspects botulism, treatment is generally started immediately. Treatment can be ex-

pensive and time consuming. Horses fighting botu-

lism poisoning must have their activity controlled. Physical movement accelerates the pro- gression of muscle weakness and increases the possibilities of death. Mineral oil is usu- ally given to aid in the passage of the toxin and help prevent impaction colic. The veterinarian may

administer an antitoxin, which is very expensive. The horse cannot be down and the anti- toxin must be given early in the progression of the illness to be reasonably successful. Protecting the horse

from exposure to botulism can be difficult as the botulism is in the soil. Decaying vegetation and animal carcasses give the spores the perfect incubation environment. The bacterium likes a warm moist medium that is slightly alkaline. Improperly ferment-

ed haylage or silage, hay not completely dry before baling, dried hay not stored properly, the presence of a dead animal in the feed or dead animal

carcasses in the drinking water are all avenues of contamina- tion. Large round bales of hay are frequently the source of botulism poisonings. The contamination of a wound or umbilical stump can also cause the illness.

There are currently

eight types of c. botulinum identified. These are types A, B, C1, C2, D, E, F, and G. Horse owners need only be con- cerned with A, B and C. The most prevalent type to affect horses is Type B. A vaccine to prevent

Type B is available. Consult your veterinarian. Being vigilant and

practicing good management can alleviate the exposure risk. Silage and haylage should not be fed to horses that have not been vaccinated against c. botu- linum. Hay should not be baled unless its moisture content is less than 35 percent. Hay pro- cessing equipment should not be set low to the ground – gath- ering soil into the bales must be avoided. Throw out any bales of hay where dead animals are found. Water sources must be kept clean.

Horse owners must

be aware of the dangers that may lurk in the shadows.

* Proper nutrition

and management practices can prevent many problems associated with caring for horses. You can learn how to provide your horse with a better life-style by taking the online course “How to Feed for Maximum Performance” taught by Eleanor Blazer. Go to www.horsecoursesonline. com for more information. Visit Eleanor’s web site at www.

Expands 4 times in volume with an absorbtion rate up to 200%. That’s good as Gold...

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