Beat Botulism

Botulism is largely avoidable, but immediate veterinary treatment could help save an affected horse’s life.

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Beat Botulism
Horses that are mellow accept recumbency and handling, and those without respiratory paralysis can be assisted with a sling for a short period once daily. | Photo: Courtesy Lee Thomas

Botulism is largely avoidable, but should your horse encounter this disease, immediate veterinary treatment could save his life.

Sometimes a feeding decision might seem harmless in itself, and even economical. But its result could be deadly: “The person in question poured bags of horse feed into a big bin, then parceled out the feed from the bin. After many years of doing this, he decided to feed all of the feed, some of which had been at the bottom of the bin for years,” recalls George McCommon, DVM, of an incident that occurred when he was practicing as a racetrack veterinarian in Delaware.

Shortly thereafter, two of the horses fell ill. “The owner thought the horses were colicking–they were depressed, just standing and staring at the feed. It was when I came and started to pass a nasogastric tube that we realized that the horses could not swallow or eat because of paralyzed throat muscles,” says McCommon, who is now an associate professor in Veterinary Science at Fort Valley State University in Fort Valley, Ga.

The combination of clinical signs–two horses becoming sick simultaneously and the discovery that the affected horses had been fed years-old feed–quickly led to a diagnosis of botulism caused by contaminated feed

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Written by:

Marcia King is an award-winning freelance writer based in Ohio who specializes in equine, canine, and feline veterinary topics. She’s schooled in hunt seat, dressage, and Western pleasure.

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