Just like humans, horses can sometimes feel under the weather. However, there are some conditions that can prove more serious for your equine friend. One such illness is atypical myopathy, a fatal muscle disease linked to the toxin Hypoglycin A, found in sycamore seeds. We spoke to our horse health expert to find out more about this potentially deadly condition, and how you can help prevent it developing in your horse.

Atypical Myopathy

What causes atypical myopathy?

As mentioned above, atypical myopathy is caused by Hypoglycin A, which has been linked to the ingestion of sycamore seeds during autumn and winter. Because the seeds contain varying levels of the toxin, a horse might need to eat as few as 32 or as many as 9000 for the condition to develop. Germinating sycamore seeds in spring can also cause the condition.  

What does it do?

Atypical myopathy affects a horse’s muscles, damaging cells, especially those of the heart and chest wall, as well as the muscles that help horses to stand. As a result of this, a pony with the disease might find it difficult to stand or even hold their head up high. Some horses might be more susceptible to the disease than others, especially young horses kept at pasture.

Atypical Myopathy

What are the symptoms?

The symptoms of atypical myopathy that you should look out for include:

  • Dullness and reluctance to work
  • Muscle weakness
  • Pain
  • Difficulty in breathing
  • Dark brown or red urine

How is it treated?

It’s important to do your best to detect atypical myopathy as early as possible, because even if caught in the early stages, the prognosis is usually poor. To treat infected horses, your vet might prescribe both intravenous fluids and intensive care, and monitor your horse’s condition carefully.

Atypical Myopathy

What can you do to help prevent atypical myopathy?

Due to the seriousness of the condition, you’re advised to take steps to minimise the risk of your horse contracting atypical myopathy. These can include:

  • Giving your horse access to clean, uncontaminated pasture
  • Making sure grazing horses has alternative sources of forage
  • Turning out horses for shorter periods of time
  • Using a paddock hoover, or picking up fallen seeds
  • Fencing off any areas of fields containing sycamore seeds
  • Reducing stocking density

Atypical myopathy can be a serious condition, and something all horse owners should be aware of. But with due care and attention, the likelihood of your horse contracting the illness can be kept to a minimum. If you have any questions, or have concerns about your horse, speak to your vet for more information.  

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