Botulism in Horses

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Botulism in Horses

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    08-12-2010, 09:41 AM
Botulism in Horses

This story is probably the equivalent of being struck by lightening, but I want to share it just to make people aware.

A few weeks ago I came home from work and 1 mare was contorted indescribably in pain. I got her in the trailer and rushed her to the vet. Two vets were treating her and had no idea what was wrong with her. I had to leave her overnight. When I got home my other mare and gelding had the same symptoms just not as violent. All 3 were shaking uncontrollably in their HQs and couldn't stand for very long. The vet came out at midnight and tried to do something for them.

The next day they called the University of Tennessee vets and found out it could be botulism. There is no test for botulism you just have to treat it with anti-toxin, and if it goes away then it was botulism. UT was out of anti-toxin, so we had to wait for it to be shipped from the manufacturer. All I could do that night was sit and watch my horses dying.

They made it through the night and got the anti-toxin administered through I.V. The next day. That evening they were slightly improving. The vet came back the next day and administered the 2nd dose. They were MUCH improved by that evening. It has been a few weeks now, and they look like nothing ever happened.

The vet said they most likely got it from a round bale of hay. We have never fed our horses round bales. This was the first time. He said he never recommends round bales for horses--they are fine for cattle. We have never heard that before. Again, I think an adult horse getting botulism from hay is like getting struck by lightening so don't freak out.

Apparently botulism is common in foals, and they are referred to as "shaker foals" because the large muscles shake uncontrollably. I'm assuming because they are so small even a small amount of the toxin has a huge affect on them.

An important thing to know about botulism is the shaking is symetrical. If the horse is shaking in only one limb or one side of the body, then it's not botulism. Botulism always presents symetrically.

All is well on the ponderosa again I just wanted to share this story because I had never heard of botulism in horses, and thanks to the internet the word can spread and maybe help someone sometime.
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    08-12-2010, 09:51 AM
Several years back in my area the couple (with zero knowledge about horses) got 8 or 10 horses (heck knows for what, breeding or riding). No botulism shots, and old moldy cow hay (to save some money).......... The vet (I know him in person and he's tough older country guy) CRIED when he was putting down all but one horse. The only one survived was an older gelding, which had botulism shots every year before he was sold to this couple (and apparently he still had some protection from it I guess).
    08-12-2010, 10:04 AM
My vet said he has never recommended the shots because in 41 years of practice he has never seen a horse with botulism.

My friend in Kentucky immediately called her vet to see if it was included in her recent vaccinations. The vet said it wasn't because it's not common. She sees it in foals at the big farms in KY, but not in adult horses.

My vet looked at what was left of the hay, which we had discarded, and was surprised that it looked good. He walked the pasture and couldn't find anything else.

We are definitely getting the shots from now on though.
    08-12-2010, 10:09 AM
While I wouldn't call it common here...I wouldnt call it rare, either. In the summer, our sticky humid weather breeds lots of things in hay. Perfectly dried hay that never saw rain will turn up with a chunk of mold in the middle.

We never feed round bales. Our BO lost a horse 2 years ago to botulisim. Scary stuff.

From what I understand it is actually caused by small animals getting killed during the cutting process and then being baled and cured in the hay.
    08-12-2010, 10:10 AM
Originally Posted by corinowalk    
While I wouldn't call it common here...I wouldnt call it rare, either.
That was my impression too.
    08-12-2010, 10:28 AM
There are actually several types of botulism, one for which there is no vaccine.

The type of botulism caused by dead animals is the one that has no vaccine. It's also the one that has an almost 100% kill rate. I had a friend who lost a horse to it. Very ugly way to die.

Botulism isn't rare but it doesn't happen often, and horse owners can take precautions to help eliminate the threat. Not feeding round bales is a start. I shudder every time I see someone feeding a round bale to horses.

Unless you know for certain that the round bale was cut with horses specifically in mind and kept out of the weather, you're playing Russian Roulette with your horses' lives. I for one am not willing to take that risk.
    08-12-2010, 11:32 AM
I agree. I am crazy about hay anymore. It is such a good staple for horses, especially in the winter. It can also be a great carrier for some really bad stuff. The last horse I had before I had my children caught EPM. Since she was only on hay and no grains...she either caught it from the field or from hay. Hay is pretty likely. Mold is some bad stuff. Its so common around here.
    08-12-2010, 06:36 PM
I had a pony mule die of botulism around 20 years ago back in Pennsylvania. His came from some bizarre internal source and not from anything he ate. He was actually written up in some veterinary journals because his case was so unusual. He got the anti-toxin, but passed away in less than 24 hours.
    08-12-2010, 11:46 PM
Originally Posted by Speed Racer    
There are actually several types of botulism, one for which there is no vaccine.

The type of botulism caused by dead animals is the one that has no vaccine. It's also the one that has an almost 100% kill rate. I had a friend who lost a horse to it. Very ugly way to die.
I don't believe that is true. Many people here feed haylage to their horses and in Scotland, from what I have been told, it's basically ALL they feed to their horses, due to the difficulty of getting the harvest in dry. There is a vaccination schedule that must be implemented weeks or months before feeding haylage. I have never heard of a horse dying from botulism if properly vaccinated BEFORE the risk. (not to say it has never happened, of course -- just very, very rare)

Please read the article here: Botulism in Horses and Haylage
It's the best one I found so far.

I tried feeding round bales (not haylage) one winter. Never again. It was just too much bother and I threw a lot of it away for fill because my 2 horses were not vaccinated. I wasn't willing to take any more risk than I had to. It was the only hay I could get at the time (8 weeks!) I peeled off every layer before giving it to them to inspect it. Time consuming, but well worth it. Found lots of ickkies in bales that looked just fine from the outside.

However, for locations with many horses, round bales can easily be rolled out by one person and make feeding a breeze. With vaccination, and the bales rolled out the risks of botulism and bronchial irritation are hugely reduced.

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