“We just buried our fourth horse yesterday,” says North Carolina horse owner Pamela Colbert. “It has been an emotional, draining weekend, just awful.”
Colbert says she purchased alfalfa just over a week ago from her Middlesex area feed dealer. Her AQHA show horses nibbled at the alfalfa, but quit eating the new hay. Colbert gave it to three horses and a pony on the farm who don’t normally get alfalfa. They ate it.
“They quit eating and they weren’t in distress and then they were in trouble. When they were close to the end they were sweaty – that clammy type sweat – their gums were white and they had foam coming from their mouths,” Colbert recalls. “It was terrible.”
A necropsy and analysis of the hay purchased by Colbert confirm blister beetle toxicity, according to the treating veterinarian Dr. Karen Bulluck of Eastern Equine Veterinary Service. She says it is the first time she has seen the diagnosis in 26-years of practicing equine medicine.
Dr. Bulluck gave three of Colbert’s Quarter Horses, including GQ Celebrity, a clean bill of health after they ate a small amount of the affected hay.
The striped blister beetle is black with three vertical stripes and is one of the blister beetles species horse owners should be on the look-out for.
The fluid from a blister beetle’s body contains cantharidin, which is highly toxic to horses. As little as four grams of dried beetles can kill a horse. And the toxicity of cantharidin does not decrease in stored hay. It can also affect humans, dogs, and cattle.
The alfalfa was reportedly shipped from Kansas to North Carolina by Murphy Farm Hay and Feed’s contact. Will Murphy, of Louisburg, told us Monday he stopped selling the alfalfa Saturday after he was alerted regarding the blister beetles the night prior.
The suspect alfalfa bales came in about three weeks ago and are tied with a two-tie orange baling twine and weigh about 70-lbs. Murphy says his Murphy Farm Hay and Feed will give a refund on alfalfa purchased.
Colbert says she wants to make sure no one else feeds the tainted batch of hay to their horses. “I’ve always fed alfalfa and knew about it [blister beetles]. I would ask where it came from.”
An official with N.C. Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services says it began its investigation Monday.
As a result, the hay masked the less palatable toxic plant. Commonly called "horsetail," horses are highly susceptible to illness or death due to equisetum toxicity when consumed in large amounts.
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