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Death of 4 horses in WNC in less than a week possibly due to fungus on grass?

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  • Death of 4 horses in WNC in less than a week possibly due to fungus on grass?

    The vets are still guessing at this point, but to summerize: Four horses have died in less than a week in the same area (Cane Creek/Fairview area outside of Asheville). Another horse was referred to a local equine facility (we'd heard Bonnie Brae in Tryon, NC...excellent facility...though that's not confirmed). The horses developed cardiac symptoms, along with hind end and muscle weaknesses that rapidly deteriorated resulting in the horses dying.

    The vet who was interviewed on TV (Dr. Anne Stewart...good vet...I've used her before), said at this time, they are guessing it is a fungus on the grass that occurs during this time of year (fall) in drought conditions (we're still in severe drought....please, please pray for rain!). Right now the recommendation was to put your horses on dry lot until they find out further.

    Anyone heard of this? Many of the pastures in our area are of fescue grass. Horse owners in this area know that there is a fungus on most of the fescue grass....that's why we pull our pregnant mares off of fescue three months prior to foaling (it can cause some serious problems)...but I've never heard of it harming non-pregnant horses. Anyone one else heard of this type of problem in drought stricken areas?

    While it didn't mention it on TV, the "word" is that red maple and cherry have been eleminated as possible causes. If it's a weed, it hasn't been identified as yet. We are all axiously awaiting further test results, and thoughts and prayers go out to the owners of the horses that died, and the one in the clinic. Jingling for it to make a full recovery.
    Last edited by mtngirl; Nov. 12, 2008, 09:44 PM.
    A poorly fitted saddle hampers both horse and rider.

  • #2
    Try to get a copy of Dr. Anthony Knights A Guide to plant poisoning. Plants containing cardiac glycosides include: dogbane, lily of the valley, foxglove, oleander, many different species of milkweed, butterfly weed. He says treat with activated charcoal if the horse is not dead already. He talks of other medical treatments. See if some local weed expert can walk the pastures, or even have them look through stomach contents at necropsy.
    Are you feeding your horse like a cow? www.safergrass.org


    • #3
      Those symptoms don't sound like fescue toxicosis or grass staggers. Grass staggers comes from rye - but like I wrote the symptoms don't really match 100%.

      Like Katy wrote - a necropsy will most likely reveal the cause. Could be something in a hay delivery, a noxious weed - a number of things.
      Brothers and sisters, I bid you beware
      Of giving your heart to a dog to tear.
      -Rudyard Kipling


      • #4
        Thinking outside the box (I just posted this on NC Horse news too)....

        Since we know that a dog contracted Lepto in that area in the last two months...could it be possible that the soil and water in that area is contaminated with Leptospirious????

        Did they rule this out?



        • #5
          I watched the report on the news, WLOS, tonight but have been unable to get on their website to see if there is any other information.
          I thought they said 4 had died. They did say they had sent 1 or more to Tryon Equine, used to be Bonnie Brae. They said they had ruled out toxic plants or foul play.
          I'm at a loss for where to go to get information. Do you call your vet? Ag extension? Is there a Poisen Control for animals?
          The only recommendation on the TV was to put your animals up. I have one old horse who would be really crippled if he couldn't move around and a pony with allergies who needs to be out 24/7. My friend has 15 horses, 5 stalls. What to do........what to do........


          • #6
            Aren't those symptoms that of nitrate poisoning?
            The CoTH CYA - please consult w/your veterinarian under any and all circumstances. - ET


            • #7
              Here is the link to the report on WLOS:



              • Original Poster

                Thanks ttldr1 for providing the link! I replayed the news segment (it was hard to take it all in when cooking dinner and someone else talking to me at the same time!) ...symptoms included becoming lethagic, sweating, shaking and dark urine. And yes, Price, you're right...it was four horses not three. Four dead since last Thursday. The news report stated they suspect a soil or root based toxin? I'd heard from other sources it was a fungus...but then you know how rumors are. Still, the information I'd had received pretty much went along with the news broadcast.

                Very scary. I have friends with horses in that area and everyone I've talked to is pretty worried. I'll be keeping my eyes and ears open for more information. I'm sure necropsies are/have been done and more tests will be forthcoming. My two are already on dry lot most of the time, simply due to the drought and lack of grass. Guess I'd better lay in some more hay!
                A poorly fitted saddle hampers both horse and rider.


                • #9
                  my mare is like 3 miles from where the horses were at...

                  I was told earlier tonight it's actually up to 5 or 6 now, but they are from 2 farms that are neighbors to each other, that makes me think maybe something got into the creek there, or something of that sort. If it was something due to the drought, wouldn't it be more wide spread, than 2 neighboring farms?
                  But if it gets any worse I will probably be calling friends and moving my horse till it gets solved...
                  " iCOTH " window/bumper stickers. Wood Routed Stall and Farm Signs


                  • #10
                    It makes me feel a little better that it is all 2 farms next to each other, but I think mine will spend a day in or small almost no grass paddock. Oh and can you imagine the heartbreak if it were you.
                    No sugguestions for getting information? I don't much trust WLOS.


                    • #11
                      Originally posted by mtngirl View Post
                      . . . . Anyone heard of this? Many of the pastures in our area are of fescue grass. Horse owners in this area know that there is a fungus on most of the fescue grass....that's why we pull our pregnant mares off of fescue three months prior to foaling (it can cause some serious problems)...but I've never heard of it harming non-pregnant horses. Anyone one else heard of this type of problem in drought stricken areas?
                      . . .
                      The one comment I have is that the fungus found in conjunction with fescue is NOT ON the fescue. It is an ENDOPHYTE fungus ("endo" means INSIDE) that is within the fescue & is there the entire life of that fescue plant.

                      Actually, the endophyte fungus of fescue has great potential for harming grazing animals. The fungus causes constriction of capillaries (tiny blood vessels) & there have been cases of cows grazing on fescue that had ear tips die & fall off & also hooves die & fall off due to the impaired circulation.


                      • #12
                        I've been following this, as well, but info has been scarce!

                        I do hope they discover something soon. Fortunately we did get rain today, and my horses stayed in the dry lot (well, muddy lot).

                        I know we have dogbane in the area and I've known of goats dying from this. Does anyone know how dead these pastures were? I had heard (rumor, mind you) that area was known for colic because the grass is so rich?

                        Please keep posting whatever you hear!
                        "One person's cowboy is another person's blooming idiot" -- katarine

                        Spay and neuter. Please.


                        • #13
                          I just talked to my vet. She said she had heard of this on Tues from the small animal side of her practice. According to her, the neighbors live across the road from each other. The pastures were not rich but overgrazed. The current thought is that a foreign weed seed, maybe from imported hay, could have caused a non-native plant that was toxic, although they have not found any plants. Symptoms are similar to tieing up and treatment is the same, massive amounts of IV fluid to flush the kidneys. The killer has been that the "toxin" also attacks the heart and that has been the cause of the horses who have died or been put down (there have been some of each).
                          I'm probably 10 miles or so away and she said she thought I was fine with my horses out. She also thought the rain we had last night and today would make whatever it was, less toxic.


                          • #14
                            My horse is very near where this happened.

                            The BM has taken all the horses off pasture and put them in dry lots.

                            It's so sad!!!

                            Let's all hope that this mystery is solved quickly and the horses can go out on pasture again!!!


                            • #15
                              Here's a link to the local vet about what is happening

                              I had a visit from the vet today, not related to this. But she told us that there have been only 4 horses put down or die, and here is a link to her website with a little more info as to what is going on..
                              It still seems to be ONLY these 2 places, they are neighbors, but have a fenced off creek between them, so no direct contact between the horses. I don't know if this would make a lot of difference, but all the horses have been pasture puffs, not horses in regular work, and on over grazed pastures, so who knows what they picked up and ate..
                              " iCOTH " window/bumper stickers. Wood Routed Stall and Farm Signs


                              • #16
                                VERY interesting article at that link, Grandprixjump:

                                http://www.appalachianequine.com/SPM.pdf (Seasonal Pasture Myopathy). I had never heard of Seasonal Pasture Myopathy - now I have something new to worry about.


                                • #17
                                  I'd never heard the condition referred to by that name. I've heard it referred to by the names associated with each type of toxicity - rather than an umbrella term.

                                  Like how Johnsongrass is a great forage - except under certain conditions (for all livestock not just horses). Or rye being a great forage but grass tetany/rye staggers happening under certain conditions. Or a rather rare one (around here) switchgrass toxicity in horses. That was responsible for a few deaths around here a few years ago. I think it was in a hay delivery from out of the area. One of the reasons I'm not overly thrilled with the concept of switchgrass being planted as a biofuel. It's a native grass and common in tallgrass prairie... but hundreds of thousands of acres of it across the US does not give me warm fuzzy feelings.

                                  Hope no more horses become ill.
                                  Brothers and sisters, I bid you beware
                                  Of giving your heart to a dog to tear.
                                  -Rudyard Kipling


                                  • Original Poster

                                    Evalee: You are entirely correct about the fugus involved with fescue being an endophyte....it was late at night and I just could not wrap my mind around the proper explanation.

                                    Just as a precaution my BO has put all our horses on dry lot until we hear further.

                                    grandprixjump: Thanks for the link. I have printed it off to circulate to a number of horse owners I know to give them a heads up. I don't want to panic anyone, but I feel that it's better to err on the side of caution. I'm hoping that the rain we got last night (YEAH!) may help.
                                    A poorly fitted saddle hampers both horse and rider.


                                    • #19
                                      Yes Evalee's description of endophyte is correct.



                                      • #20
                                        Any new information on this? I've got a friend that just moved to Columbus, NC, which isn't all that far from Fairview/Fletcher area and I'm worried.

                                        I'm not saying let's go kill all the stupid people...I'm just saying let's remove all the warning labels and let the problem sort itself out.