Threat of equine botulism realized after sudden death of ponies

July 08, 2016

In Winterton, Canada, two owners are mourning the sudden loss of their Newfoundland ponies after it’s believed they ate grass contaminated with botulism toxins.

Equine botulism, a rare but fatal neurologic disease, can occur suddenly in horses after they ingest toxins produced by a type of bacteria known as Clostridium botulinum. This bacteria can be found in spoiled feeds and contaminated soil and can infect horses as they eat, or get into open wounds on the horses’ exterior.

In this case, Nova, a female Newfoundland pony died suddenly at the age of 19, just a week after her nine-year-old foal, Spirit, passed away.

“I came over around 10 o’clock in the morning, to give them a couple of carrots. I gave the rabbit a carrot and I came around the corner and … Spirit was dead on the ground. We don’t know how long,” George Walker, Nova’s owner said in a recent article.

“I found [Spirit’s owner] coming up the road in his backhoe. I told him and he was devastated. Couldn’t believe it. Because the night before, she was all right.”

Just a week after that, George said Nova stopped eating and he assumed it was due to the grief she felt over losing Spirit. What he didn’t know was that she was sick too.

“It just happened — she came out of the barn and she just started shaking and then she just dropped down,” Walker said.

“The vet told me what to do with her. I tried my best to do what I could with her and she just went down. The vet told me to try to hold her up but I couldn’t, she was just too heavy for that. I tried to, but I couldn’t. And then she just went down and she slowly died.”

The veterinarian believes the ponies ate grass contaminated with botulism and quickly developed the disease. Although vaccination is available, Walker said he had no indication that the ponies’ deaths could have been prevented. He is now urging others to make sure their animals are vaccinated.

“Hindsight now, if we would have known this we would have had it years ago. They would have had it years ago,”  Walker said in the article.

Walker said his animals have since been vaccinated for botulism, and he wants other owners to know about the risks.

“It should be out there that everyone that has an animal that can get that [vaccine], should have it. We didn’t know about it.”

Neogen manufactures BotVax B, the only USDA-approved vaccine for the prevention of equine botulism Type B due to Clostridium botulinum in horses. Horses are extremely sensitive to botulinum toxins, which can have devastating neurological effects. When it comes to protecting your horse, prevention is your best defense.

Category: Animal Safety, Equine, Veterinary, Animal Health