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Vaccinate for Botulism- yes or no?

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  • Vaccinate for Botulism- yes or no?

    A friend just lost her horse to botulism. They had relocated from Florida to Colorado last year. I don't know too many details except that both of their horses were fed hay together (round bale? square bale?-I don't know) and the other horse was completely unaffected. Her vet at first suspected rabies and by the time the correct diagnosis of botulism was made, it was too late to save the horse. The vet told her there was likely a tiny amount of toxin in the hay, such as that from a decaying mouse- such a tiny amount that the other horse didn't consume any of the toxin. My friend told me it was a terrible death for her horse.

    All of this has me wondering if I need to vaccinate for botulism. I did some internet research and discovered that there was an outbreak of botulism in 2008 in Florida that resulted in the death of 200+ horses. I then spoke to my vet and she told me those deaths were in south Florida (we're in NW Florida) and they were attributed to toxin that was contained in large round bales of hay. She said she doesn't think the horses where I board are at much risk of getting botulism. We get square bales of good grass hay year-round from the same farmer. She did say that if our horses were placed in a situation where they were eating from large round bales that she would most likely recommend the vaccine then. Otherwise, she doesn't feel it's really necessary for us to vaccinate here. My horses do occasionally go out to pasture for short periods of time in the winter where they eat from large round bales. I've been taking my horses out there for more than 15 years without incident. I could either vaccinate them or stop taking them out to that situation. Or just carry on as usual without the vaccination! The vaccine involves three shots, one month apart, followed by annual boosters so it would be a significant expense for me to vaccinate both of my horses.

    I'd like to know others' experiences, recommendations, and suggestions on this subject. I've never in more than 45 years of horse ownership vaccinated for botulism. But I certainly would if I were convinced there was a need to.

    Here is the website of the vaccine manufacturer: http://www.neogen.com/AnimalSafety/pdf/BotvaxBrochure_2008.pdf I don't know if there are any others who manufacture botulism vaccine.

    And here are a couple of articles from The Horse.com


  • #2
    When my horses were on round bales, I vaccinated for botulism. I don't vaccinate now that they are at home with me and get small square bales.

    I'd vaccinate for botulism if my horses were ever going to eat round bales.
    "If you can't feed 'em, don't breed 'em."


    • #3
      To me, roundbales = botulism vaccine, no exceptions. If they are on square bales, then make sure you are not in a state where it is endemic in the soil, then make your decision. My two are vaccinated for it no matter what.


      • #4
        The thing about the vaccine, if I remember correctly, is that it doesn't cover every type, and so is no guarantee. Large round bales are a much larger risk than small squares, as large amounts of dead material can go undetected. Unless you search every inch of it and see every section like you do by feeding small squares, something can go unnoticed until long after it is too late. I had part of a snake in a square of alfalfa recently and 2 vets were there when I opened it. Without hesitating, both said either take it back or throw it away. Obviously it had been a big boy and most of him was missing. One bale wasn't worth it to me. The vaccine won't hurt, but it is not the be all end all of prevention and not a 100% guarantee unfortunately (of course no vaccine is). Botulism comes in many forms and can affect one horse and not another. We had a foal get into something (not hay) and be diagnosed with it. The owners were very lucky, as we got her to the hospital and she was treated before a diagnosis was confirmed, so in time to save her. The treatment is not cheap either, bags of plasma that will run in the thousands to treat a full grown horse.

        I am very sorry for your friend's loss.


        • #5
          The botulism vaccine will protect your horse from Botulism Type B, which accounts for 80% of all equine cases of botulism. Botulism Type C (from dead animals) is really quite rare. So to me, the vaccine is definitely worth it.


          • #6
            Originally posted by Bacchus View Post
            When my horses were on round bales, I vaccinated for botulism. I'd vaccinate for botulism if my horses were ever going to eat round bales.
            me too


            • #7
              I never vaccinated for Botulism until I knew a horse that had it. I saw how horrible it was and how insanely expensive it was to treat. The cost of the vaccination is well worth it, even though it may not prevent all strains. Also, I have never had a problem with a reaction from it. There is no reason that I wouldn't give it.


              • #8
                Ditto to everyone else -- when my horses are out on round bales, they get it. Last winter they had square and round bales -- still got the vaccine. We are down to the once a year booster and I can give it myself or get a friend to do it, so it's really not very expensive and gives me peace of mind.
                The big man -- my lost prince

                The little brother, now my main man


                • #9
                  I've gotten the vaccination for my horse(s) ever since a friend's horse got it (NOT on round bales) and died. Just not worth the worry, even without the round bales.
                  She wasn't running away with me, I just couldn't stop her!


                  • Original Poster

                    Still uncertain...

                    Originally posted by dwblover View Post
                    To me, roundbales = botulism vaccine, no exceptions. If they are on square bales, then make sure you are not in a state where it is endemic in the soil, then make your decision. My two are vaccinated for it no matter what.
                    OK, this is where I am having difficulty in deciding whether to vaccinate in my particular situation. I've read up on the various botulism types and how they occur. Florida is not among the regions of the country where the toxin has been identified in the soil. Neither is south Alabama, where our hay comes from. The botulism cases that have occurred in Florida were most likely from round bales that had been transported in from out of state.

                    However, we do find animal parts from time to time even in our good square bales from Alabama. Over the years, we've found rabbit skin and fur, armadillo parts and some jawbone fragments from an unidentifed critter incorporated in the bales. Those are rare occurences but it does happen and I can see how it could happen in the process of cutting and baling those huge fields up in Alabama. And I can see how small animal carcasses could even get inside the round bales that are produced, baled and fed on the smaller 50 acre local Florida farm where I occasionally pasture my horses throughout the year.

                    Here's where I'm having trouble connecting the dots: If the botulinum toxin is not present in the soil to begin with, can it still occur in one of those decaying carcasses? Or simply from the hay itself spoiling and rotting? Is it produced spontaneously as a result of decomposition? In other words, is this STILL something I need to be worried about??


                    • #11
                      Vaccinate. It is a much less expensive option than the alternative...
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                      • #12
                        I agree with Tasker. I always vaccinate for Botulism.


                        • #13
                          My horse is fed crummy, often moldy round bales on turnout. If she wasn't such a picky eater (leaves it) or easy keeper I'd be more upset over it. But I know the BO does his best and some spoilage is to be expected.

                          All the talk about botulism here got me concerned. When the vet came for spring shots I asked him if we should vaccinate for it (in earshot of BO)

                          His answer was no, unless she was getting actual "silage" I shouldn't worry about it. He's a bovine/equine vet, so he should know.

                          Ask your vet would be my answer.


                          • #14


                            A killed vaccine (toxoid) directed against Cl. botulinum type B only is licensed for use in horses in the United States. Its primary indication is for prevention of the Shaker Foal Syndrome by colostral transfer of antibodies produced by vaccination of the pregnant mare. Almost all cases of Shaker Foal Syndrome, a significant problem in Kentucky and in the mid-Atlantic seaboard states in foals between 2 weeks and 8 months of age, are caused by Cl. botulinum type B. Limited information suggests that foals vaccinated with the toxoid at 2 weeks, 4 weeks and at 8 weeks of age developed adequate serologic response, even in the presence of passive maternal antibodies.

                            There are no licensed vaccines available for preventing botulism due to Cl. botulinum type C or other subtypes of toxins. Cross-protection between the B and C subtypes does not occur; thus routine vaccination against Cl. botulinum type C is not currently practiced.
                            ... _. ._ .._. .._


                            • #15
                              I did, since my barn feeds roundbales in winter.

                              It is a 3 shot series, given IM once every 28 days. Cost for each was $12 (if you give it yourself!)

                              Then, it's an annual booster.

                              We're in Virginia.

                              To me, if my boys weren't on roundbales (that are left out, sadly) in winter, (only covered, smaller squarebales), I would not (and did not) bother.

                              Good luck!


                              • #16
                                One of my horses had botulism (spent 3 mos in the hospital and miraculously survived - $28,000 later). He acquired it from a square bale. I have never fed round bales. That was 13 years ago. All my horses have been vaccinated since then and continue to be regardless.
                                www.littlebullrun@aol.com See Little Bull Run's stallions at:
                                "Argosy" - YouTube and "Boleem" - YouTube
                                Boleem @ 1993 National Dressage Symposium - YouTube


                                • #17
                                  Thank you for this post. Honestly I never really knew much about botulism in horses and never thought to vaccinate for it. My horse eats square bales and lives in Maine, however, I'd rather be safe and vaccinate for it if my veterinarian will do it.


                                  • #18
                                    Resurrecting this 8 year old thread to ask if anyone actually vaccinates for this. It has come across my FB feed and my niece was asking. My horses are on round bales.
                                    "Punch him in the wiener. Then leave." AffirmedHope


                                    • #19
                                      Watch one horse in your lifetime get botulism and I guarantee you will vaccinate forever! Horrible way to die.


                                      • #20
                                        I do cause its cheaper to vaccinate than to treat.
                                        "Anyone who tries to make brownies without butter should be arrested." Ina Garten