Botulism is a bacterial toxin that can be fatal to horses. It is potent and can cause rapid illness and death if not diagnosed soon. While there are several types, Type B is the most common found in horses. It is caused by a bacteria that lives in soil, the Clostridium botulinum.
Horses who ingest contaminated feed or hay or have wounds or accidentally ingest spores that live in the soil can contract botulism. Symptoms usually occur after 3-7 days and include muscle paralysis, weakness which can be seen by reduced activity of the tongue, eyelids and tail, inability to eat or swallow, drooling, pacing, frequently lying down, inability to rise, tremors, are uncoordinated, constipation.
Diagnosis is made by ruling out other neurological diseases such as rabies, Wobbler’s Disease, West Nile Virus, etc.
Treatment involves administering antitoxin, oxygen if necessary, antibiotics as a preventive, supportive care as with any illness. Prompt action and administration of antitoxins help towards a positive outcome.
Prognosis is good for treated horses that can stand and swallow 7-10 days after receiving the antitoxin. More than 90% of treated foals survive.
Type B botulism can usually be prevented by having your horse vaccinated. There is no vaccine available for other types of botulism. If left untreated, botulism is fatal.
To further prevent botulism, purchase hay and feed from reliable dealers. Store properly and check regularly for any contaminants. Clear any carrion in your horse’s foraging area. Don’t feed hay on the ground.