Protection Against Botulism
What causes botulism?
Toxins produced by the bacterium Clostridium botulinum cause botulism. Horses can consume bacterial spores from soil and feedstuffs. Most often it is found in forage where an animal carcass has been baled with the forage or when the hay moisture level is too high. Round bales are primarily susceptible. Botulism can also gain entry through wounds.
What are the signs of a horse that is affected?
Botulism paralyzes the motor nerves responsible for muscle movement. Signs of botulism are weakness and difficulty eating or swallowing. Foals can become very weak and shake due to muscle weakness and are called “shaker foals” for this reason. Adult horses can also have muscle shaking and may have a hard time even lifting their head. They lose tone in their tail and eyelids and usually cannot stand up.
Can an affected horse be successfully treated?
Horses can survive botulism, but treatment is costly and recovery is slow. Round-the-clock nursing care is required because most affected horses cannot eat or drink and must be fed via stomach tube and intravenously. Supportive therapy requires administering a botulism antitoxin, which binds the botulism toxin in the blood circulation. Unfortunately, once the botulism toxin binds to the nerve, it cannot be reversed and the horse’s body must regenerate its own nerve-muscle junctions. Antibiotics such as penicillin and metronidazole can kill C. botulinum bacteria, if present.
How can botulism be prevented?
Preventing botulism involves routine vaccination of foals and adult horses and careful feeding practices. Most botulism cases in the United States are caused by type B botulism, which has a commercially available vaccine. An initial series of three monthly vaccinations is recommended for unvaccinated horses, followed by yearly boosters. It is especially important to vaccinate pregnant mares so that antibodies are passed to foals in colostrum.
Feeding carefully harvested forages is the best way to prevent horses from ingesting botulism toxin. Do not feed dusty, moldy or wet hay or fermented silage and haylage. If any dead animals are found in the hay, discard it immediately. Rounds baled hay has the highest risk of containing botulism because it is baled with a high moisture content, which is a hospitable environment for botulism. Bagged, chopped forages are usually of very high quality and would be a good alternative if clean, properly harvested baled forage is unavailable. If using bales, they should be broken apart to expose any potential contaminants.
Finally, always keep open wounds clean and dressed.
Is there a high risk of my horse contracting botulism from the soil?
No. The mid-Atlantic states and Kentucky are where most spores are found in the dirt, but incidence of the disease is low. If using good horse husbandry practices, the risk of horses contracting botulism from the soil is small.
Triple Crown feeds offer protection against mycotoxins with our unique Equimix Technology found in every Triple Crown feed product. Read more on the special benefits of Equimix by visiting: Triple Crown® Digestive Horse Feed Aid Featuring EquiMix® Organic Mineral Technology
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