Early arrival of grass sickness

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WE have been busy during the past two weeks and have had lots of interesting equine cases, most noticeably two grass sickness cases, these have been unusual in that this is a disease generally not seen until later in summer.

Equine grass sickness is an often fatal disease of which the cause is still unknown despite extensive studies. Speculated that the possible cause is an organism similar to botulism which is present on some grasses at particular times of the year, usually warm wet weather, so it is generally seen during June and July and occasionally later in the year during September, so to have cases in May is unusual. The disease can present in different ways which are related to the rate of progression of the symptoms, but the symptoms are the same in all cases.

Equine sickness is a disease affecting the entire digestive tract with sometimes acute onset of signs but often as we have been seeing a gradual paralysis of the entire tract.

The clinical signs can sometimes be vague in chronic cases but there is usually patchy sweating, muscle tremors, often over the hindquarters and shoulders, a marked loss of weight with a typical greyhound appearance and a poor appetite. Often the horse is unable to swallow so although they look like they are drinking they are usually just playing with the water and not drinking, on clinical examination they have a typical high heart rate, usually in excess of 60 beats per minute (normal heart rate is about 30/32 bpm) as the condition worsens they appear to become constipated, producing dry, mucous covered faeces as the intestines gradually stop working and moving what little food they do eat along.

Treatment of these cases is unrewarding and many do not recover but there is an excellent support service offered by Edinburgh Vet School giving clients useful information.

Unfortunately a conclusive diagnosis can only be made an post mortem but due to the nature of the typical symptoms a diagnosis is usually made and often euthanasia is carried out on humane grounds. Fortunately we generally have only a handful of cases every year but it is a disease clients should be aware of, and contact their vet at the earliest opportunity if they are concerned.

Just a reminder that our next client meeting, Journey to the centre of the horse, about gastric ulcers and worming is on Wednesday, May 30, at Morpeth Town Hall. All welcome.

SALLY BOOTH, director and senior vet

IT is five years ago now that I was reunited with Harvey, my beloved orange moggie, after he’d been missing for getting on for a month.

The circumstances of his disappearance are a little unclear. The circumstances of his identification when he finally turned up some five miles away are no mystery at all though. Harvey is microchipped.

The ninth annual National Microchipping Month takes place this June and highlights the benefits of animal microchipping. We want to encourage owners to ensure that their much-loved pets are chipped. National Microchipping Month is organised annually by the Kennel Club to promote Petlog, which has a database of over six million animals, and provides round the clock assistance to owners.

Microchips are just slightly bigger than a grain of rice and take seconds for us to implant under the skin of your pet, just like an injection, between the shoulder blades of cats, dogs and rabbits or in the crest of a horse’s neck. We can also microchip birds and exotic pets.

Each microchip has a unique code which is linked to the national 24-hour Petlog database.

When your pet is microchipped your contact details will be logged onto the reunification database, so if your pet goes missing and is picked up, they can be scanned, identified and reunited.

CHRIS GREEN, director and senior vet