Veterinary expert discusses pros of equine botulism vaccine

Dr. Christina Vittoria, D.V.M. is a veterinary expert practicing equine, small ruminant and companion animal medicine at Willow Creek Equine Veterinary Services in Pennsylvania.

Recently, she wrote for newspaper Reading Eagle about a threat on the minds of all horse owners and caretakers — equine botulism. Dr. Vittoria answers a key question from a concerned reader:

Dear Dr. Vittoria: The barn manager at my boarding facility recently changed to feeding large square bales of hay. I have heard they are not good for horses, but I don’t know why. Should I be worried? — Concerned

Dear Concerned: Large square bales and round bales can pose a significant risk to your horse. There is a chance that when they are made, a dead animal accidentally could be bound up into the dried hay. This would rot inside a bale without oxygen, which the organism Clostridium botulinum thrives in.

Dr. Vittoria goes on to explain why baled hay poses a risk for equine botulism and what can be done about it — namely, the benefits of vaccination, and how it can save lives.

The saddest case I saw was a mare that had to be put to sleep because her case of botulism was so bad. The problem was that her baby was pawing at her trying to get her to get up so he could get a drink of milk. Please vaccinate!

Read the article in full here at Reading Eagle’s website.

How equine botulism differs from similar ailments

Equine botulism is a progressive neuromuscular disease that quickly leads to paralysis. It typically causes death via respiratory failure when not treated soon after the onset of clinical signs. The disease happens due to a toxin produced by the spore-forming bacteria Clostridium botulinum. The most common type of toxin produced is type B, which accounts for 85% of cases in the U.S.

C. botulinum is mostly found in the soil, which can lead to it contaminating feed, especially in the eastern half of the country. Feed contaminated with animal carcasses, or that hasn’t been properly dried, processed or stored, is most at risk.

Initial symptoms

Symptoms can show up 12 hours post-intoxication and are usually observed within 24 hours. Initially, horses will display dysphagia, or difficulty in swallowing. They’ll eat more slowly, and foals will leak milk from the mouth while suckling. Horses will also demonstrate poor muscle tone, particularly noticeable in the eyelids, tongue and tail. Their muscles may tremor, and as the condition progresses, they may be unable to stand, showing many of the same symptoms as colic. Despite similar early symptoms, however, colic and botulism are two very different illnesses.

A real-world example

In an article for The Horse, veterinarian and professor Amy Johnson breaks down the case of a five-year-old Thoroughbred that was diagnosed with equine botulism after displaying colic-like symptoms. Continue reading How equine botulism differs from similar ailments

Practical Biosecurity Tips to Protect Your Horses — Partnership with TheHorse

You’re probably familiar with general equine biosecurity rules. But not all disease prevention practices are made equal. What’s the best way to protect horses from diseases, including equine botulism?

Neogen has partnered with TheHorse to create this list of Dos and Don’ts to help you formulate the best biosecurity plan you possibly can. Read the full article here.

Ask the Horse Live — Biosecurity: Protect Your Horse from Disease

How can you keep your horse healthy when going to horse shows, trail rides, or events? And what about bringing new horses into a boarding stable? Learn about practical biosecurity measures to protect your horses.

You can listen to a recording of the live Q&A session, Biosecurity: Protect Your Horse From Disease, conducted by and Neogen’s Dr. Joe Lyman, here.

Botulism Vaccination Protocols for Horses

What are the recommendations for the equine botulism vaccine? Is there a booster series? Once you start vaccination, how frequently do you need to go back for more doses?

Dr. Daniela Luethy covers recommendations for the botulism vaccination and booster series for horses in an excerpt from the Ask TheHorse Live Q&A: “Botulism: Deadly to Horses.” Listen in here.

You can check out the full audio of the Q&A here, chock full of valuable information for protecting your horse from this deadly neurologic disease.

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

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.” Continue reading Horse and unborn colt lost to equine botulism

Botulism: Deadly to Horses Q&A

Neogen, the makers of BotVax®B, is the official sponsor of this month’s Ask the Horse Live with TheHorse! You can register to listen in today!

What you need to know:

Topic:                         Botulism: Deadly to Horses

When:                        Thursday, August 9 @ 8 p.m.

How to attend?         Register via

If you are unable to listen live, fret not. Everyone that is registered will receive a follow-up email with a link to the recording of the live event once it’s posted on

With several recent cases of equine botulism deaths in the news lately, we hope you take this chance to tune in, join the conversation, and get important information about this often misunderstood disease.

Vaccination cheat sheet from The Horse and Neogen

The reason we vaccinate our horses is simple: We want to minimize their risk of contracting a life-threatening and/or infectious disease. Learn more about vaccinations with this helpful guide from The Horse, sponsored by Neogen. Zoom in here.

Equine botulism leads to two deaths in Nova Scotia

Equine botulism is the cause behind two deaths at an animal rescue in Nova Scotia, Canada this month, with a third horse having been diagnosed, reports CBC.

Like many cases of equine botulism, the horses affected most likely became ill after eating hay that had been contaminated with the toxin-producing bacteria Clostridium botulinum. The bacteria exists in the soil and in decaying animal carcasses. From there, it can sometimes become rolled up in hay bales, where it finds a favorable environment to grow. Inadequately processed haylage and silage also present a risk.

“For all those people out there who thought, like me, if you feed dry hay you’re safe — you’re not,” said the animal shelter’s owner to CBC. A video interview with the owner can be seen here. Continue reading Equine botulism leads to two deaths in Nova Scotia

Risk-Based Vaccine: Botulism — American Association of Equine Practitioners

Clostridium botulinum is the most potent biological toxin known. The American Association of Equine Practitioners created this helpful resource on Clostridium botulinum Type B, which causes equine botulism, and the vaccine against it.

Neogen offers the vaccine BotVax B, which inoculates against botulism in three doses, each one month apart. BotVax B is the only U.S. Department of Agriculture-approved Clostridium botulinum type B toxoid licensed for preventing equine botulism in healthy horses.