Early de­tec­tion and treat­ment are the keys to help­ing a horse re­cover from this neu­ro­log­i­cal dis­ease.

EQUUS - - Eq In Brief - By Lau­rie Bon­ner

When your pre­vi­ously sure-footed horse starts to stum­ble reg­u­larly…. Or you no­tice his lip droop­ing and he’s drop­ping feed…. Or his gaits just seem to lack that usual smooth­ness un­der sad­dle….

Signs like these may be sub­tle, es­pe­cially at first, but it is not good to over­look them. In fact, any per­sis­tent change in the way a horse uses his body---in­clud­ing his rest­ing stance, his gaits, how he car­ries his tail, the pat­tern of his sweat, gen­er­al­ized weak­ness, a droop­ing ear or tilted head--could be a sign that he is de­vel­op­ing a neu­ro­log­i­cal disorder.

And one com­mon neu­ro­log­i­cal dis­ease af­fect­ing Amer­i­can horses is equine pro­to­zoal myeloen­cephali­tis (EPM). Horses may de­velop EPM after in­gest

ing feed or wa­ter con­tam­i­nated with Sar­co­cys­tis neu­rona, a one-celled or­gan­ism called a pro­to­zoan, that is spread by opos­sums and car­ried by other an­i­mals. Less com­monly, a dif­fer­ent pro­to­zoan called Neospora hugh­esi may also cause EPM.

Most horses who en­counter the or­gan­isms that cause EPM put up an im­mune re­sponse that fights off the in­fec­tion. Some­times, how­ever---in less than 1 per­cent of ex­posed horses---the pro­to­zoa cross into the cen­tral ner­vous sys­tem and dam­age the brain and spinal cord. Sev­eral drug treat­ments are avail­able that can curb the pro­to­zoal in­fec­tion, but the dam­aged nerves will still re­quire up to a year or more to heal, and some horses never re­cover com­pletely. Re­lapses are com­mon if the pro­to­zoal pop­u­la­tions are able to re­bound after treat­ment ends. A horse’s chances of a full re­cov­ery are bet­ter when treat­ment is started early, be­fore the dam­age is too se­vere.

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