By the end of 2014, the number of Atypical Myopathy (AM) cases, which is also known as Seasonal Pasture Myopathy, reported in the UK had reached the highest levels in Europe.
Due to the alarming increase of cases, the Animal Health Trust and Irish Equine Centre are working collaboratively with the Université de Liège on further research.
However, as sycamore seeds will begin to fall throughout autumn, which is fast approaching, the British Equine Veterinary Association (BEVA) has issued a warning to horse owners to be aware of the precautionary measures that can be taken to decrease the chances of horses consuming these seeds.
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 AM. Pictured on the right is a sycamore or 'helicopter' seed.
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: “Throughout 2014, The British Horse Society was notified of numerous Atypical Myopathy cases which resulted in the death of many horses. 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 autumn warning made by BEVA and also urges all horse owners, where possible to decrease their horses’ opportunities to consume sycamore seeds and seedlings.”
The BHS Welfare team have produced advice regarding Atypical Myopathy. Contact the team to request a hard copy or download the NEWC poster to display at your yard.