Friday, 10 March 2017

All About ... Grass Sickness

What is it

Grass Sickness is a disease which causes damage to the Autonomic Nervous System.   This system allows internal organs to function properly, usually unconsciously controlled.  It controls the digestive system, the movement of blood by the heart, some gland activities and much of the urino-genital system.  It is the gut which is primarily affected by Grass Sickness, it becomes paralysed!  It can affect horses, ponies and donkeys of all ages, breed or sex and usually results in death.


There are 3 forms recognised:


  • Severe colic 
  • Muscle tremors 
  • Patchy sweating 
  • Excess salivation 
  • Difficulty swallowing - horse will drop food or it will come down the nostrils 
  • Few droppings, hard and small often covered by mucus 
  • The stomach can fill with liquid which then may come out of the nostrils


Horses are affected less severely but symptoms are mostly the same.  There is less likely to be any nasal discharge. 

  • Horse will lose weight rapidly


Symptoms develop more slowly and in some cases is only a mild colic. 

  • Weight loss - considerable 
  • Drooping eyelids 
  •  Dry and crusty nose 
  • Patchy sweating 
  • Tucked up


It appears to be seasonal, most often seen between April and June.  Most often in grazing animals.  Horses new to a field are more likely to be affected as the risk seems to decrease the longer the horse is on the same pasture. 

Clostridium botulinum is currently thought to be a key factor and a specific neurotoxin that it produces BUT there are more factors involved and research is ongoing. 


CALL THE VET immediately you notice these symptoms.


Most horses will die within a week.  Horses with the acute or sub-acute form will not recover and should not be allowed to suffer.  Horses with Chronic Grass Sickness can survive.  These are the cases where treatment may be successful. 

Supportive treatment and nursing.  Feeding through a stomach tube if necessary, fluid therapy.


A vaccine is being trialled, but currently there is nothing available.

Equine Grass Sickness Fund Website:

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Until next time!

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