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Atypical Myopathy: Remain Vigilant this Spring

5 Mar 2015


Sycamore seed

A sycamore or 'helicopter' seed

In the UK, 2014 saw a worrying increase in the number of suspected and confirmed cases of Atypical Myopathy throughout the autumn. As a result, the British Equine Veterinary Association (BEVA) has issued a warning to vets to remain on high alert for further outbreaks this spring.

The toxin hypoglycin-A has been specifically identified within the seeds of the box elder and sycamore maple trees and has been linked to the cause of Atypical Myopathy.

Experts warn that high autumnal outbreaks are often followed by a high number of cases the following spring, potentially due to the growth of seedlings. Therefore, horse owners in the UK need to be aware of the potential risk this spring.

Atypical Myopathy is a muscular disease, the onset of which can appear rapidly and without any prior warning. The clinical signs will reflect the effects of the toxin damaging the muscles and will include the horse appearing weak and having breathing difficulties.

Affected horses often progress to lying down fairly quickly and sadly, many horses have been found dead out at pasture, such is the speed with which the disease can take effect.

The survival rates are poor at less than 25%, therefore early diagnosis is essential to provide the best chance of beating the disease.

To prevent the consumption of sycamore seeds/seedlings, horse owners are advised to:

•    Provide additional supplementary feed out in the field
•    Ensure the pasture is not over-stocked
•    Check the pasture carefully for seeds prior to turn out. This is by no means an easy task and consideration has to be given to the sycamore seed’s other name of ‘helicopter seed’, as they can easily be carried on the wind and potentially end up in equine pastures
•    Ensure horses are well-fed prior to being turned out
•    Remove sycamore seedlings, seeds and dead leaves
•    Where possible, consider stabling the horses overnight
•    Maintain good pasture management to prevent weeds taking over grass growth
•    If moving horses is not an option, fence off areas around the sycamore trees.

Emmeline Hannelly, Welfare Education Officer, said: “The British Horse Society has been notified of many Atypical Myopathy cases which have resulted in the death of the horse. We greatly sympathise with horse owners over the difficulties of controlling the spread of seeds on horse paddocks – it is not an easy task.

“However, the Society echoes the warning made by BEVA and also urges all horse owners, where possible to decrease their horses’ opportunities to consume sycamore seeds and seedlings”. 

The Welfare team have produced advice regarding Atypical Myopathy. Take a look at it now or contact the team to request a hard copy.

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