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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