Help - Sick Horses

Helga Hoffmann greenweb at fox.nstn.ca
Tue Aug 22 05:18:08 EST 1995

                     Help - Sick Horses

The Green Web has been asked to post the following notice, 
which concerns very sick horses in Nova Scotia. Anyone who 
can help, please respond to the contacts listed at the end 
of this message.

Over 50 horses from several farms in the Scotsburn area of
Nova Scotia, Canada, are afflicted by a mysterious illness,
which nobody has been able to diagnose - mares, geldings 
and stallions, of a mix of breeds. Some of these horses are
very ill. (After a call through the Nova Scotia media, more
horse owners have come forward in other areas of the province,
so we know it is not just a local problem.)

Symptoms were first noticed in April '95 by Betty Schneider,
who owns or boards 38 horses. Other horse owners were also 
noticing changes in the health of their horses. The horses' 
ages range from newborn to 26 years old. Local and government
veterinarians have not been able to identify the cause(s).

The following information is given to see if these symptoms 
are known to others, and if someone knows what the possible 
cause(s) and treatment could be.

Some of the symptoms observed, though not present in all the
- hair: loosing mane and tail hair, one pure white pony has
brilliant yellow colour on new hair growing on mane and tail;
- skin: itchy all the time, skin wrinkled, dehydrated;
- hooves drying, cracking;
- eyes: some gone blind, some have some loss of vision, eyes
are bulging and bloodshot, 3rd eyelid raised;
- gastro-intestinal: not feeding well, difficulty chewing, 
grind their teeth, lower lip droops and flops, sometimes 
tongue lolls to side, on one horse noticed "little red dots"
inside the mouth early in illness, esophagus area thicker, 
wider and firmer than usual, also enlarged, inflexible and
bowed out when head is erect, distended abdomen, guarding,
appear to have abdominal pain, don't appear to bend in ribs
or flank, drinking a lot, loosing weight (one horse lost 
300 lbs in 3 weeks), change in manure;
- shallow breathing;
- skeleto-muscular: joints clicking, walk with stiff gait,
off balance, trembling specially in the hind quarters, stiff
when getting up, dragging their feet, not using hocks or 
knees properly, one horse had a fractured pelvis (was killed -
awaiting autopsy results), tails sticking out all the time;
- urinary: unusual voiding pattern, sometimes don't pee for a
long time, sometimes in small dribbles, one horse which had 
fluid in the ankles does not have it any more;
- vital signs: fever - none or very low grade, pulse - weak;
- behaviour: not energetic and lively, appear depressed and 
apathetic, bump into things, don't roll and run around when 
let out, horses that usually were very quiet now are jumpy, 
others the opposite, males let penis hang down all the time 
(don't retract it), both sexes show unusual sexual behaviour;
- pregnancy: mares show no or erratic heat periods, behaviour
of pregnant mares not typical, of 6 mares bred last fall by 
one owner, only one mare had a foal born so far, and it was 
not a 'normal' pregnancy  (foal was born 2 weeks late, and 
small for age - as if one week early, retained afterbirth - 
unusual for that mare, milk did not 'down' until last minute),
other bred mares not showing normal signs of pregnancy, males
and females showing unusual sexual behaviour patterns, 
yearlings still want to nurse.

Other observations:
- dogs are also unwell, show low energy, vomiting - they eat 
manure and grain;
- some beef calves were noticed to also have 'clicking joints';
- geese on one farm ( 8 females, 3 males) have problem hatching
eggs. The geese had over 150 eggs, yet only one gosling was
- after the feed was changed, there was a very noticeable 
increase in the rat population in the barn;
- again after the feed was changed, barn cats who did not
usually conceive, now are having lots of kittens.

What could be causing the disease?
- two feed contaminants are known:
      - one batch of feed contained cleanings from the feed mill;
      - another batch contained rusty metal and mould.
- a mould inhibitor (Luprocil N.C. BASF?) was added to the mash
by the feed company.

Other possible causes (not corroborated yet by evidence):
- a viral illness;
- rodenticides contaminating the feed;
- mouldy feed;
- heavy metals;
- feed that intended for other farm animals with different 
requirements, or which had medications added;
- pesticide drift: herbicides (e.g. glyphosate/Vision ) - 
a nearby 50 ha. forest site has been aerially sprayed more 
than once through Pictou Forest Owners. (The site is owned 
by Lorne Developments - Elmer MacKay); blueberry pesticides
(many - there is a field nearby).

The feed used came from Clarence Farm Services, a division of 
Rawlston-Purina Feeds. They do all the "mash" mixtures for farm
animals in the Atlantic Provinces. The mash is made up of corn
and barley ("from Western grain").

The commercial feed was stopped in early July, now the horses
are being fed alfalfa pellets, hay and milk supplement.

Topics heard mentioned by some of the veterinarians:
- muscle enzyme deterioration
- malabsorption, reabsorption of Calcium

We have been investigating any possible cause(s). For anyone who
can provide some help, or would like more information, please
Betty Schneider: RR 3, Scotsburn, N.S., B0K 1R0, ph. 902-485-5609
Fran Bent: ph. 902-485-1966
Ardith MacKay: Box 550, Pictou, NS  BOK 1HO
E-mail messages can be relayed through: clan.craft at north.nsis.com

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