Salmonella: Beware The Bacteria

Although it’s ever-present, under normal conditions Salmonella will have little influence on your horse’s heath. But, if he’s stressed and his immune system is operating at less than full capacity, the bacteria can sneak in and strike.
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We tend to hear about Salmonella, a bacteria, in relation to lectures on kitchen hygiene; it’s one of the main reasons why we’re warned to wash our hands vigorously after handling raw chicken. But you might recall being forbidden to have a pet turtle as a kid because of the risk of it carrying Salmonella. Truth is, not only might that turtle or chicken be infected with this organism, your horse might be, too.

According to Roberta Dwyer, DVM, MS, Dipl. ACVPM (preventive medicine), Associate Professor at the University of Kentucky’s Gluck Equine Research Center in Lexington, Ky., there are more than 2,200 serotypes of Salmonella present in the environment. Some are specific to reptiles and amphibians, others to birds, and still others cross many species barriers. They’re in the environment, the soil, and your horse’s gut. They’re extraordinarily resilient, sometimes lingering in the environment for years (one Scandinavian study turned up viable Salmonella in six-year-old cattle manure in an abandoned barn). All but a few types are transmissible to humans.

Although it’s ever-present, under normal conditions Salmonella will have little influence on your horse’s heath. But, if he’s stressed and his immune system is operating at less than full capacity, the bacteria can sneak in and strike.

Its most common mode of attack in adult horses is the gastrointestinal tract, where it causes acute or chronic (long lasting) diarrhea. In an acute case, the horse might have manure that’s loose, liquid, foul-smelling, and sometimes bloody–and he’ll also show signs of fever, dehydration, and a hypermotile bowel that emits characteristic "crackling" or "tinkling" sounds. Those are tip-offs for instant action for most horseowners. Some horses demonstrate milder symptoms such as slight depression and "cow patty" manure, which might not be obvious danger signs. But those signs should be taken seriously. Left untreated, what appears to be a simple case of "the runs" might quickly lead to serious dehydration and electrolyte imbalances, which are potentially fatal. Weight loss, laminitis, and kidney shutdown are other risks of a severe episode of Salmonella-triggered dehydration

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Karen Briggs is the author of six books, including the recently updated Understanding Equine Nutrition as well as Understanding The Pony, both published by Eclipse Press. She’s written a few thousand articles on subjects ranging from guttural pouch infections to how to compost your manure. She is also a Canadian certified riding coach, an equine nutritionist, and works in media relations for the harness racing industry. She lives with her band of off-the-track Thoroughbreds on a farm near Guelph, Ontario, and dabbles in eventing.

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