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Numerous Sudden Equine Deaths Reported by Owners in Britain and Ireland
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Numerous Sudden Equine Deaths Reported by Owners in Britain and Ireland

The number of horses dying suddenly is on the rise in Britain and Ireland. Newspapers in the United Kingdom are filled with articles of horses killing over with atypical myopathy. To date, the surge of deaths appears to be reported mostly in Britain, Ireland and the surrounding regions.

Equine atypical myopathy is a life threatening disease of the muscles. The disease effects both the skeletal and heart muscle. The rise in equine atypical myopathy cases are believed to be the result of heavy rains and high winds spreading the seeds of the sycamore tree. Horses that ingest the seeds of the sycamore tree have a 70% mortality rate. The cause of the disease was only identified last year. A toxin contained in the sycamore seeds called Hypoglycin-A is the culprit.

Atypical myopathy is showing up mostly in horses younger than 3-years old and horses older than 20-years old. Horses in poor health and with access to rivers and streams for drinking water are at higher risk for contracting the disease. Most of the horses that have become stricken with the disease have been allowed to open graze.

Prevention includes restricting access to sycamore trees. Owners should rake and properly dispose of the seeds if possible and restrict open grazing. Supplementary feed should be provided for horses to control grazing. Adequate nutrition, worming and timely vaccinations are the most important steps in prevention.

Prompt diagnosis and treatment is pertinent to recovery. Horse owners should be aware of the symptoms of equine atypical myopathy. Early signs of the disease are sluggishness, colicky, diminished appetite and limping. Some horses have died in the pasture with no warning signs. In the later stages, some horses have presented with severe lethargy, stiffness pronounced in the hindquarter, difficulty standing, muscle tremors, labored breathing, hypothermia, distention of bladder with difficulty urinating and dark colored urine. Most horses will make an effort to eat although the horse may experience choking.

Since time is of the essence, contact a veterinarian immediately. Remove the affected horse from the field by means of a trailer, as forcing a sick horse may result in muscle damage. If possible, a urine sample is helpful. Sugary foods, water and a warm blanket will provide comfort until the veterinarian arrives. Remove remaining horses from the field and monitor for symptoms.

*Photo courtesy of Horse by Moyan Brenn at Flickr’s Creative Commons.

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  1. Maria Sorgie
    Maria Sorgie
    Thanks for sharing this information. Great Post
    1. Archippus
      Thanks for the support Maria! It is very much appreciated! The sycamore seeds are very dangerous for horses. The disease has been recognized for sometime. Veterinarians have just recently found the cause for the problem.
  2. TomCat
    voted 7. It is sad about the horses.
    1. Archippus
      Thanks TomCat! Your vote is very much appreciated! I am just glad that scientists have discovered the cause of the problem. Horse owners just need to be educated so that precautions can be taken.
  3. MrsTomCat
    Sad story
    1. Archippus
      Thanks! Mrs. Tom Cat, your support is appreciated!
  4. BigCharlieN212
    was number 12
    1. Archippus
      Thanks Big Charlie N212! Your vote is appreciated!
  5. pftsusan
    Will bananas help them, when they are sick? Fruit sugars and potassium?
    1. Archippus
      It is such a deadly disease, the best thing is to call a veterinarian right away. The sugary food, blanket and water will help until the vet arrives. Thanks Susan!
  6. trotability
    I had never heard of this illness and am quite shocked. Happy to know what to look out for
    1. Archippus
      You are so welcome. The problem is mostly in Britain and Ireland for now. However, if you are a horse owner in the U.S., be aware of the dangers of sycamore trees for horses. You can Google horses and sycamore trees for further information. Also to see what the leaves and seeds of a sycamore tree look like for easy identification.
  7. jst4horses
    We had similar symptoms and deaths in California. It was traced to pesticides in the alfalfa. Many feed stores had whole trucks of feed covered with tarps, and warning signs it was to be picked up by the wholesalers, NOT to be sold. The problem was apparently identified quickly and the growers identified, the fields destroyed, and growers working on solutions to clean the soil and water and to warn others not to use those pesticides. As an old horse owner and trainer, I remember from a class taken at Cal Poly long ago that was based on research which showed that cows, when fed warehouse grown alfalfa and grain, with NO bugs, NO mud, NO weeds, got sick. When they were returned to regular, buggy, weedy alfalfa, they got well. We need to remind ourselves that horses in particular are not going to get sick or die from bugs on their hay, or grain, but they have and will continue to die from pesticides. As for sycamore trees, young horses and old horses have to be kept from many other trees and plants as well. Consult a vet before you plan out the landscaping on your farm or stable. Oleander is on many a ranch, yet the horses rarely eat it. Other plants, and some wild mushrooms, the horses snack on, look out for them on the trail with young horses.........I had a huge vet bill and a horrible night with a racing colt I had taken out on the mountain for a walk. I said, as he leaned out, don't eat ...........and he had swallowed it before I got to "that". He was saved, and never ate another one!
    1. Archippus
      Thanks for sharing Jst4horses! Perhaps, we will see an increase in organic farming methods.

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