Staggers


 

What is it? 

A neurological disease of sheep, cattle, horses and ponies and is common in summer and autumn.

What is the cause? 

The disease is caused by the ingestion of a toxin produced by a fungus (or endophyte) in perennial ryegrass. The highest concentrations of toxin are in the leaf sheath and seed head.

The toxin has a specific damaging effect on the cells in the cerebellum of the brain that coordinate movement.

Symptoms 

  • The signs are most obvious when affected animals are disturbed and forced to move.
  • Affected animals become anxious about being approached.
  • In mild cases there is slight trembling of the head and of the skin of the neck, shoulder and flank.
  • More severe cases show head nodding and jerky movements, swaying while standing and staggering during movement.
  • In the most severe cases, they have a stiff legged gait, short prancing steps, and may collapse with rigid spasms that last for up to several minutes.
  • They find it difficult to back up and it is almost impossible to float a horse during the acute stage.

How is the Horse Affected

  • The disease itself is not fatal, but there is a real risk of injury or death as a result of accidents.
  • Affected horses lose weight as they don’t graze as much.
  • They may not be able to drink sufficient water.
  • They can become caught up in obstacles like electric fences, generally lose co-ordination bumping into objects and injuring themselves
  • Horses and ponies become more difficult to handle, and even dangerous to ride.

Immediate Action:           

  • Remove stock from affected pasture.
  • Contact your veterinarian
  • If safe pasture is not available, put your horse into yards and feed them hay (or silage/baylage) and provide plenty of clean water.
  • Handle affected horse quietly and transport only after the acute stage is over.
  • The best long term solution in areas where the disease is a problem is to replace the affected ryegrass pasture with a transition crop of mustard and blue lupin to sterilise the soil.

Traditional and Veterinary Treatment: 

  • A mixture of magnesium sulphate and sodium chloride may be used initially
  • For horses there are two products on the market produced by Nutritech; Mycosorb & Biomos.

Alternative and Herbal Treatment 

  • After removing horse from affected pasture start on a detox program using blood cleansing and diuretic herbs. 1 cup each of chopped cleavers, stinging nettle, and dandelion. Cover with 1 litre of boiling water and add a cup of the cooled mixture to feed twice daily until finished.
  • Ensure that the horse is exercised lightly by leading it at a walk in hand for the first few weeks then when co-ordination has been restored riding can resume. Start with short periods of walking in straight lines. Make sure the horse remains calm during work ensuring there is not too much environmental stimulation.
  •  Increase the horse’s intake of magnesium. One tablespoon of Epsom salts daily for a week will help restore magnesium levels may be used for the first week and then a bio available liquid magnesium thereafter.
  • Increase liver stimulant herbs like milk thistle, artichoke leaves, hyssop, agrimony, blessed thistle yellow toad flax golden seal.
  • Skullcap extract may  help reduce spasms caused by neurological disruption.
  • Ashwagandha (the Indian Ginseng) is an adaptogenic herb and will help restore and balance the endocrine system in particular optimum cortisol levels.
  • Between 2-3 tablespoons of Omega Oil Complex, which provides Alpha linolenic acid (ALA) regulates glucose levels, anti-inflammatory, prostaglandin regulating and inhibits metastasis. Gamma linolenic acid (GLA) may help protect the nerve sheath from further damage and regulates hormones
  • Valerian Tincture is an anti-spasmodic and may help with muscle spasms and the GABA effect on the brain will help with neurological disruption cause by the mycotoxins.

             

             

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