Florida horse and unborn colt lost to equine botulism

When it comes to equine botulism, most people associate the disease with northeastern and Appalachian U.S. states. However, the toxin-producing bacteria that causes equine botulism, Clostridium botulinum, can be found anywhere.

Ashley Godwin was living in Florida when she lost her seven-year-old Thoroughbred mare, and her unborn colt, to equine botulism on Christmas Eve. She had owned Penny since the mare was a yearling, and was hoping to race her baby. Godwin writes about Penny and her experience over at TheHorse.

Godwin’s and Penny’s equine botulism story is like what many horse owners go through when the disease strikes. Initial symptoms looked to Godwin like colic or pregnancy discomfort.

“When I approached her, I saw she was also shaking her head in a side-to-side motion,” Godwin said. “I knew that wasn’t good.”

Early on, both colic and botulism can both cause a horse to be restless, lie down, suffer constipation and lose its appetite. With botulism, a horse has symptoms that come with muscle weakness and paralysis: difficulty eating and swallowing, weak eyelid tone, and respiratory distress, among other signs.

A nearby equine hospital helped make the diagnosis, and immediately brought Penny in for treatment. Sadly, Penny and her colt could not be saved, despite best efforts.

Prevention can save lives

“We vaccinated all our other horses immediately after losing Penny,” said Godwin. “I learned it’s a very safe vaccine and not expensive.”

A vaccine against equine botulism, BotVax B, inoculates against the disease in three doses, each one month apart, and then once a year. It’s the only U.S. Department of Agriculture-approved Clostridium botulinum type B toxoid licensed for preventing equine botulism in healthy horses. The vaccine is also more affordable than equine botulism treatment, which can cause medical bills to skyrocket.

“(Penny) was up-to-date on all her vaccines but one: botulism,” said Godwin. “I had never really heard of this disease before this, but I have been on a mission to beg people to vaccinate ever since. A $15 vaccine would have saved my girl, her baby, and my broken heart. Instead Christmas is probably ruined forever for me now, I had more than $5,000 in vet bills, and the love of my life is gone.”

Check out Godwin’s full post at TheHorse’s website, and see here for information on Botuslim: Deadly for Horses, an informative Q&A hosted by TheHorse to share important information about this often misunderstood disease.

For even more information about equine botulism and its treatment and, importantly, its prevention, see our Equine Botulism Blog.

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