Botulism in horses
A pony foal is lucky to be alive thanks to a group of dedicated veterinarians — and a family not ready to give up on the newborn. Bossy’s Cookies, a 10-day-old filly, suffered from an almost life-ending bout with botulism.
Three days after her birth, the filly began staying down for prolonged periods in her stall. She was unable to rise on her own and staggered around. Her owners initially suspected a neck injury since she was not able to raise her head or neck.
If assisted, she could stand to nurse if her head was supported in the proper position. Bossy’s Cookies became quieter and weaker as the days progressed. She was not standing as long or walking as well and spent most of her time in lateral recumbency.
Radiographs showed no damage to her spine or fractures of any kind. Euthanasia was considered, but her owners weren’t quite ready to give up on their new baby. They decided to take Bossy’s Cookies to UC Davis Veterinary Medical Teaching Hospital in an effort to save the filly’s life. During the almost 400 mile trip, her owners stopped every two-hours so the filly could nurse from her dam.
Once at UC Davis, Bossy’s Cookies was examined by the hospital’s veterinarians, including Dr. Gary Magdesian. He’s an expert in neonatology and critical care. His diagnosis pointed to signs of neuromuscular disease, especially botulism. While the filly was being tested for botulism, the veterinarians began treating her immediately, since time is of the essence with the toxin.
Botulism Type A
Botulism may prove fatal. Its caused by a toxin produced by bacteria. In horses, botulism can occur three different ways:
– toxico-infectious botulism, where young foals eat spores from the environment which proliferate inside their gut, allowing the organism to produce toxins;
– by eating a toxin that’s already in spoiled feed or water, generally caused by anaerobic conditions in the feed or the presence of dead animals in the feed;
– wound botulism, where a bacterial organism proliferates in a necrotic wound.
Electrophysiology testing conducted was compatible with botulism. In the end, PCR testing confirmed Bossy’s Cookies positive for Type A botulism.
Botulism relaxes the entire muscular system by inhibiting nerve transmission to the muscles. Additionally, Type A botulism tends to be the most severe form. When treated properly, Type A botulism patients can make a full recovery, but that can take several weeks. Dr. Magdesian and the patient care team began treating Bossy’s Cookies with botulism antitoxin and IV penicillin.
Since Bossy’s Cookies first arrived, she was too weak to eat so she was fed by a tube. After vets began the botulism antitoxin treatments she was able to eat on her own and made other improvements as well. Within a week, she first tried to stand on her own. By two weeks, those efforts became stronger. At three weeks, she was able to stand with minor assistance. She was eager to be up and walking around her stall. By four weeks, Bossy’s Cookies stood on her own and was bright and active.
Now at home, she continues to get stronger daily. Dr. Magdesian says he expects Bossy’s Cookies to make a full recovery.
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