Linda MacDonald is a horse owner that has dealt first hand with EPM. MacDonald: "EPM is in the area. A lot of times it's there and people aren't aware because they don't know the clinical signs."
EPM is an equine neurological disease that can be difficult to diagnose.
MacDonald: "Normally you would look for your horse losing control of their hind quarters. EPM the culprit attacks the spinal column. And the hind quarters is what goes."
The horses may also stagger when they walk and have to lean against a building for support. EPM is caused by a parasite. It is in the feces of the opossum and gets into the horses system through hay. Other animals are only intermediate hosts for the parasite.
MacDonald: "People don't seem to know there are many hosts to this disease. It does not hurt the host, cats being typically one. Then it would go to possums or raccoons."
But once ingested by horses it begins to wreak havoc on the animal’s central nervous system. And treatment for EPM is very costly.
MacDonald: "It runs for $1000 for a month’s treatment. And sometimes they need two treatments."
If left untreated EPM can lead to serious neurological damage in horses, including paralysis or worse death.
MacDonald: "We were told that their mom had perished from EPM. Two of four or five of this person’s that had been lost to EPM."
The best way to keep your horse safe is to know your hay dealer and make sure they keep their hay away from opossums.
Here are a few suggestions for keeping opossums out of your hay and keeping your horse safe:
- Keep feed rooms and containers closed and sealed.
- Use feeders which minimize spillage and are difficult for wild animals to get into.
- And schedule regular appointments with your equine veterinarian.