An Introduction To Grass Sickness In Horses

As a horse owner it is essential that you understand what grass sickness is, how to diagnose it and how to treat your beloved pet for it.

Here’s everything you need to know.

What is it?

Grass sickness is a condition that affects grazing horses and will cause varying degrees of paralysis in the intestine. In some cases it can prove to be fatal.

Whilst it was originally thought to only affect horses in the UK, it has now been found in horses throughout Europe and really is something all horse owners should be aware of.

What causes horse grass sickness?

Even after 150 years of in-depth research, the real cause of grass sickness remains largely unknown. It is generally thought to be caused by the environmental bacterium which creates a toxin within the horse’s intestine and ultimately results in paralysis within.

What are the symptoms?

In order to diagnose your horse, it is important that you understand and notice the symptoms of this illness as soon as possible. Some of the most common symptoms include:

  • Low-grade colic
  • Difficulty swallowing
  • Dribbling
  • Reduced amount of faeces/droppings
  • Significant weight loss
  • Abdominal pains
  • Sweating
  • Muscle spasms/tremors
  • Fast heart rate
  • Ruptured stomach
  • Fluid in the stomach
  • Shrunken intestine

It should be noted that there is a 100% mortality rate within one to two weeks of suffering from this illness so failing to spot the signs and seek treatment could be the difference between the life and death of your animal.

How is grass sickness treated?

Unfortunately, a majority of cases of grass sickness leads to mortality or euthanasia on humane grounds.

However, some horses have been known to be treated intensively for the rest of their lives with continued support. This form of support means that the horse must be fed through its stomach and given a large amount of medication for many months so few owners choose it.

Horses that have suffered from this illness will be permanently susceptible to suffering from colic and therefore must remain on a strict diet. This may reduce their quality of life and can be costly for the owner.

Can it be prevented?

It has been found that horses turned out to grazing after a long period of time in their stables are at a particularly high risk of suffering from this illness.

Therefore, these horses (commonly race horses) should not just be fed on grass alone but also given hay and concentrate feed to reduce their chances of becoming grass sick.

Whilst research is continuing into this sickness, it is important to contact your vet the minute you see any signs of illness within your horse and have diagnosis confirmed before treatment is sought.

Use the signs and tips above to understand this illness and to do everything in your power to prevent your horse from falling foul of it.

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