I have always been religious about vaccinating my horses and all new incoming rescues. Until I moved to Georgia, I had never seen a horse get West Nile or Encephalitis, and I pray I never see it again. But I can tell you from watching one of these diseases kill a colt in our barn that I will, and I suggest everyone with horses vaccinate and give boosters as recommended.
I am going to give you some numbers that indicate CONFIRMED cases of West Nile. But this number does not include the hundreds that go unidentified.
- 2008 Confirmed West Nile 178 (Highest number of cases in CA and WA)
- 2009 Confirmed West Nile 276 (Highest number of cases in WA and TX)
- 2010 Confirmed West Nile 125 (Highest number of cases in FL)
- 2011 Confirmed West Nile 87 (not isolated to any particular area)
- 2012 Confirmed West Nile 627 (not isolated to any particular area)
In Georgia last year in my area alone I know there were 5-8 that went unreported in Brantley, Ware and Pierce County. All people I know, and all horses that were SAID to be vaccinated. But again several had not been vaccinated. And of the ones that were not vaccinated most were under 2 years of age. This should tell you that most likely your older horses that have had several rounds of the vaccine, even if not done according to vet recommendations, they still are building antibodies to the disease to some degree. Two that I know of were middle aged (10ish) horses that were recently purchased, and previous owners told her they had been vaccinated. Both horses had to be put down within a week of each other with the same symptoms. Another, an almost two-year-old colt, had not been vaccinated. His was suspected to be Encephalitis, although swelling of the brain is part of West Nile as well.
I will tell you that this disease is nothing you ever want to see in your entire life. I watched it happen to a yearling colt in the barn where I lived and kept my horses. It was the most heart breaking, gut wrenching thing I have ever watched. It took approx. 4 days from the onset of symptoms until he had to be put down. He was a large pony colt, probably 300 pounds, when this started. I first noticed that when I brought him in for his evening grain he was sluggish and just not his normal silly self. He attempted to eat but was not terribly interested, which was not like him. Normally him and my filly, who grew up inseparable after my filly’s dam was put down when she was a month old due to a back injury, were not arguing over who could get there face more buried in their feed. I knew at that point something was not right. I thought well maybe he has a grumpy tummy, so I called his owner and asked if he wanted me to give him some Banamine. I took his temp before I gave him the meds, and oh my goodness he was burning up with a 104.3 temp. So I called him back and told him I was giving Banamine for his fever but that he needed to come out ASAP as this was not colic with a fever like that.
We pondered over it for quite some time and decided that we needed to break this fever some way; Banamine did not touch his fever. So they cold hosed, iced his neck, head and majority of his body that night until his fever finally broke. But he was still very sick, seemingly lost, very sluggish but he had moments were he seemed to feel better. He would quickly get worse, and they were back to icing him down. This went on for two more days; we were doing everything the vet recommended. He would drink if you put his face in a bucket, but he could not seem to find it on his own. Then by the fourth morning after being with him till 10 that evening, it was apparent he was not going to get better and we needed to end his suffering. He at this point had so much brain swelling that his forehead was puffy, and he was having seizures, uncontrollable seizures. I called frantic, as he was lying down, running as fast as he could every time he had a seizure and I was panicking, and alone with him. I knew we would not be able to get a vet out for hours, and there was no way he could wait.
This needed to be done and over now. I gave 10 CC’s of Banamine and a large dose of sedative to calm him and ease his pain while I waited for someone to come and take care of him. I have NEVER been one to condone shooting an animal, but until this point I had never saw something suffering so much that it sickened me. I called several people to come do it and finally after an hour of calling found someone willing to come do it. I just could not do it. I was scared I would miss, not do it right, or whatever. So I just sat with him and talked to him until they came. I kissed him, told him I was sorry and walked away so that they could do it. I would not wish seeing this on my worst enemy and I am bawling just writing this, and he was not even my horse. I was told he was vaccinated, but I did not administer or see it given so I cannot say for sure. I know that I had vaccinated all of mine and the day he came down with this I did mine again! I could not imagine losing one of mine this way.
I can tell you from experiences that if you love your horses, please spend the money on vaccinations. It could save your horse's life. They are relatively cheap to administer yourself if you cannot afford to have a vet do it. I spend $55 per horse for Encephalitis, and West Nile. And I do it for more than ten horses every year. Do not take a previous owner's word for it if they say that they have been given them unless you have a vet record of it. The numbers this past year are staggering, and I hope this is not a trend for years to come.
*Image courtesy Flickr creative commons.
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