Most people know anthrax as a bioterrorism tool, but it can also harm livestock. Anthrax occurs naturally as a spore-forming bacterium in the soil in many parts of the United States. Once it is ingested or inhaled by an animal, the bacteria travels to lymph nodes, where it multiplies and circulates throughout the body.
Anthrax infection often gives no warning, making it an especially deadly disease. Though cattle are most often affected by the disease, horses can also be infected with anthrax. Horses that work with cattle, in competition or on a working ranch may be more at risk of anthrax exposure, according to a recent report by Quarter Horse News. Horses that live in cattle-abundant states, like Texas, may also be at additional risk of getting anthrax. Anthrax can remain viable in the soil for years if left undisturbed.
Anthrax has its deadly effects by not allowing blood to clot. Horses infected with anthrax may have a high heart rate, show signs of colic, and go off their feed. Some horses will have swelling, stagger while moving, or have seizures. Horses generally die between two and four days after developing anthrax signs and are usually diagnosed post-mortem.
If handlers suspect anthrax is the cause of a horse’s illness, animal health officials should be notified because humans can contract anthrax through inhaling spores or through cuts in the skin.
Anthrax outbreaks often take place in areas that have alkaline soils or those that are exposed to extreme weather events, like drought followed by flooding. Wet winter weather followed by a dry spring and then heavy rainfall are perfect conditions for anthrax to thrive. Pastures with poor drainage and lots of organic matter are particularly at risk.
There is an anthrax vaccination available, but horse owners should discuss their horse and management strategies with a veterinarian before administering the vaccine, as there are other ways to prevent anthrax outbreaks. Horses living in anthrax-prone areas could be fed off the ground if conditions seem ripe for an anthrax outbreak. If horses have traveled through mucky areas or through areas where cattle have been, washing them with soap and water may lower anthrax risk.
Read more at Quarter Horse News.
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