Equine sleeping sickness

I live in Central Illinois, and just a few months ago lost a 6 yr. old mare due to what the vet thought was sleeping sickness, although this was not an actual diagnosis it was a possibility. Her symptoms included ...I live in Central Illinois, and just a few months ago lost a 6 yr. old mare due to what the vet thought was sleeping sickness, although this was not an actual diagnosis it was a possibility. Her symptoms included ...

Story originally posted by: Michael Lowder, DVM, MS

HI,

I live in Central Illinois, and just a few months ago lost a 6 yr. old mare due to what the vet thought was sleeping sickness, although this was not an actual diagnosis it was a possibility. Her symptoms included rapid heart beat (almost 3 times faster), fever, swollen joints (but swelling would seem to come and go a little), seemed to be stiff she would just stand in one spot in the pasture with her head hung low and with great effort would try to lean down for a bite of grass occasionally. She became anorexic looking, did not eat hardly at all, we had her on oats with just a little sweet feed mixed (250 lbs. of oats to 75 lbs of sweet feed) all mixed up and she was fed approx. a large coffee can full every day. She always had fresh water.

In the end she got to where she would get down and we would have to get her back up. It seemd that she was kinda out of her head at times. Finally at the last, she got down and we worked for 3 hours to get her up. Even put her in a sling a hoisted her up but she did have it together to make her back end work so she could stand. Her eye seemed to be very buldgy like maybe she possibly had swelling of the brain.

After finally giving up we just put padding around her for protection of her head because as she would try to get up she would throw her head and it would bang against the barn. We left her and when I checked on her the next day she was gone. We have two other horses and they are all fine. They now have had all their vaccanations, which the horse that we lost did not have.

Our vet gave this horse all the medicine he could and still no help. With everything I’ve told you can you give me an educated guess at what this horse could have died from. Her sickness lasted for about 2 weeks all together. I could have had a blood test but nothing the vet was doing was working and with her being a grade mare we didn’t have alot of money in her and didn’t want to spend more. Taking her to the University of Illinois was going to be very costly.

Please get back with me. I would appreciate it very much. Oh, and I need to mention that the horse had never left our farm it’s entire life.

Deanna Sanders

Dear Deanna,
Its sounds as if you did your best. From the symptoms you described, your veterinarian’s educated guess sounds likely. Equine encephalomyelitis (sleeping sickness) is caused by a virus, and prevention is best attained by vaccination and insect control.

Clinical signs include fever, an acute onset of lethargy, depression, and colic, and neurological symptoms such as circling and head pressing. Supportive therapy is the main treatment available, and even this may not help. Vaccination is best given in the Spring before insect numbers increase, and horses in endemic areas should receive boosters.

Thank you,
Dr. Lowder