Horses are more sensitive to botulism than any other domesticated animal species. The bacterium that causes this disease is ubiquitous in nature, especially in soil.
Causes and Symptoms of Botulism
Botulism occurs when toxins produced by the bacterium Clostridium botulinum enter a horse’s body via a wound or, more commonly, through contaminated feed and water. The bacterium can be harbored in moldy feed; it can also grow on animal carcasses. Botulism infection is sometimes associated with hay fed in roundbales if a rodent carcass, for example, ends up in the hay during the baling process.
Symptoms, Treatment and Prevention
Botulism can cause weakness, paralysis and death in horses. While an antitoxin exists for horses affected by the disease, it’s costly and many die despite treatment.
A vaccine to prevent botulism is also available; the American Association of Equine Practitioners (AAEP) recommends vaccination only in endemic areas, with special recommendations for foals.
For more information, visit www.aaep.org.
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