A possum walking over a snow covered field.
The culprit.


Whoa, readers! These last few days have been a whirlwind of packing, room dust, and more packing. Moving is hard! Enough complaining, though, because this week’s subject is pretty important, at least to me.

EPM. Kind of run-of-the-mill, yeah? Gimme’ a chance to explain how it’s not.

Horses getting sick can be scary, because you may not know what’s going on at first, or may not know what exactly is wrong. Illnesses that affect horses often have multiple symptoms that can also be symptoms of something else! Yeesh!

Okay, EPM, or equine protozoal myeloencephalitis. Holy cow,  I can’t even pronounce that, so we’ll just refer to it as EPM from now on, okay? This thing affects the nervous system of a horse, so it’s pretty bad juju, and the only hope of treating it is if you catch it early, or don’t let it happen at all, and it’s really easy to prevent.

This disease is most commonly contracted when horses water or feed in an area where a possum has recently defecated. That’s right, possums! I’m a firm advocate of humane disposal of these critters, especially if they’re in the area your horses are occupying. You also need to be checking your hay/feed for rodent droppings, not only possum, because, well, why would you feed your horse that stuff, anyway?! If you do find animal droppings in your hay or grain, you need to throw it out. Not just the parts the droppings touched, but the whole bin/bale, and I know that sounds crazy with feed prices the way they are these days, but would you rather have to buy more feed, or pay the vet for treatments, or even to put your horse to sleep?

What? Katie, that’s a little extreme! But in most cases, this disease progresses far enough that it can’t be treated, and it’s best to just put the horse out of his misery. The devil is in the details here, because the symptoms of a neurological disease can be easily and thoroughly masked as symptoms of something else, and vice versa: a respiratory problem can easily look like the start of displaying EPM symptoms, and here they are:

– Muscular issues: spasms, weakness, and incoordination

– Lameness, particularly slight gait asymmetry in the rear limbs

– Airway abnormalities such as paralyzed flaps

– Snoring, or other airway noise of unknown cause/origin

– Locking up of the stifle  joint

– Sore back, which may be severe

Now for the good news: this disease is curable if caught early enough, and anti-protozoal drugs are administered quickly. Yay!

There is a recently-released vaccine for this disease, but it’s been only conditionally approved by the USDA, pending tests in efficacy, which is why I didn’t discuss more about it. Hopefully they release it soon!

So, readers, all that jargon up there tends to drift back to one thing: observing and hanging out with your horse. Haha, I know you’re all probably rolling your eyes by now, because you’re tired of reading this, but it’s so important to go be with your horse and watch how he acts! The best teacher of The Horse is the horse! Maybe next week, I’ll talk about strangles, or equine infectious anemia. That sound good?

See ya’ next Wednesday, you guys, and make sure you check out the rest of the blog while you’re here, there are some great writers on our blogging team!

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