Box Elder Tree Seeds Linked to Seasonal Pasture Myopathy

Researchers weed out the causes of deadly seasonal pasture myopathy and atypical myopathy in horses.
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A horse starts showing stiffness and a reluctance to move. His muscles suddenly become weak to the point he can no longer remain standing. Then, as quickly as clinical signs set in, the horse dies.

Just 48 hours earlier the horse grazed happily in his pasture—an overgrazed field full of seed heads and dead leaves.

This story is typical of suspected cases of seasonal pasture myopathy (SPM), a highly fatal muscle disease described in the Midwestern United States and eastern Canada, and atypical myopathy (AM) in the United Kingdom and Europe. For decades the disease had baffled veterinarians on both continents, who struggled to pinpoint and agree on a cause.

That changed in 2011 when Stephanie Valberg, DVM, Dipl. ACVIM, and a team of researchers from University of Minnesota (UM) and Iowa State University (ISU) started investigating SPM cases and found a link to box elder trees. She presented their findings in “Identification of the Cause of Seasonal Pasture Myopathy in Horses” at the 2014 American College of Veterinary Medicine Forum, held in Seattle, Wash

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Written by:

Michelle Anderson is the former digital managing editor at The Horse. A lifelong horse owner, Anderson competes in dressage and enjoys trail riding. She’s a Washington State University graduate and holds a bachelor’s degree in communications with a minor in business administration and extensive coursework in animal sciences. She has worked in equine publishing since 1998. She currently lives with her husband on a small horse property in Central Oregon.

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