From the Foaling Barn

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Erhlichiosis: Know the Symptoms

Two weeks ago, my oldest broodmare, Pappita Sunrise, refused her evening grain ration. Since, refusal to eat (anorexia) is often a sign of fever, I took Pappita's temperature, and sure enough, she had a fever of 104.5. Normally, I would have been alarmed, but because my vet and I had recently talked about the high number of ehrlichiosis cases he had treated this year, I was pretty sure this was Pappita's problem. Also, my barn manager, Ginny, has a Belgian who had just been treated for ehrlichiosis earlier in the year, so I knew the symptoms. Ehrlichiosis, usually presents with a sudden very high fever. Affected horses may also exhibit signs of partial anorexia, depression, reluctance to move, and stocking up. Rarely, a horse may have more serious complications, such as exacerbation of existing injuries and heart problems.

Ehrlchiosis, which has recently been renamed Anaplasma phagocytophila, is a tickborne disease. It is infectious but not contagious, and it is usually seasonal, occurring during the spring, early summer, and fall in Minnesota. However, my vet (Dr. Brian Dahms) recently told me that the clinic had treated a number of cases over the winter. Because one of the hosts of the disease is rodents, warm winter barns can still harbor the ticks that cause ehrlichiosis--in the midwest, the deer tick is the culprit.

Fortunately, ehrlichiosis is easily treated. Because Pappita's symptoms were so suggestive of the disease, our vet immediately began treating her with injections of oxytetracycline over the next five days. He also drew blood to make sure she did, indeed, have ehrlichiosis. The bloodwork verified the diagnosis. Pappita improved almost immediately after the first injections of oxytet. She regained her appetite and was able to rejoin her pasture mates. The good news is that she will have immunity to the disease for approximatly two years.

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