What Is EPM In Horses?

Equine Protozoal Myeloencephalitis is something that every horse owner should know about.

What is EPM in horses?

As a horse owner that is worried about their horse becoming sick, you might be curious to know: What is EPM in horses?

In this article, I will cover some significant information about EPM, including what EPM is and what causes it in horses.

Let’s get into it.

What Is EPM In Horses?

Equine Protozoal Myeloencephalitis, more commonly known by the abbreviated name EPM, is a serious equine disease that affects the spinal cord and brain.

This disease can be notoriously challenging for veterinarians to diagnose, as clinical signs of EPM often mimic other neurological diseases. 

While some horses that are exposed to sarcocystis will develop the disease and exhibit symptoms, not all horses will if their immune system is able to combat the disease.

That being said, horses under stress are particularly susceptible to succumbing to EPM,  and if left untreated, it can be fatal.

What is EPM in horses?

What Causes EPM In Horses? 

EPM is caused by a microbe, sarcocystis neurona. EPM is not spread from horse to horse, the disease is spread by the opossum. The opossum acquires the organism from the intermediate hosts, which are animals such as cats, skunks, and racoons.

As a result, horses can develop the neurological disease through the consumption of contaminated drinking water or food.

Once ingested by your horse, the sporocysts move from the intestinal tract into the bloodstream before crossing the blood/brain barrier. From here, they are able to attack the horse’s central nervous system.

Although EPM only causes disease in around 1% of horses that are exposed to it, early diagnosis and treatment is essential to your horse’s recovery. 

The Symptoms Of EPM In Horses 

There are a wide variety of symptoms that can range from mild to severe. However, as EPM can mimic other neurological diseases, EPM can be very difficult to diagnose.

The signs of EPM can include but are not limited to

Weakness And Incoordination

You might notice that your horse is weaker when going up or down hills, or may seem as if they are less coordinated than usual when walking.

Abnormal Gait Or lameness

If your horse has EPM, they could seem as if they’re not able to walk normally or seem as if they are lame.

Paralysis Of Muscles

You might notice that your horse’s eyes, mouth, or face are drooping due to paralysis. 

Difficulty Swallowing

Your horse might be struggling to drink and eat due to them having difficulty swallowing, or may have a reduced appetite and thirst as a result of this.

Poor Balance

Your horse might lean against its stable walls for support or tilt their head due to them having poor balance.

As these symptoms can overlap and mimic other health conditions, it can be difficult for a horse to be diagnosed with EPM. That being said, it’s essential to call your veterinarian as soon as you notice something seems irregular with your horse or their behavior. 

They will be able to assess your horse’s symptoms and carry out a thorough physical examination that will reveal more about their condition.

It’s crucial that you are in tune with your horse and how they behave normally so that you are better prepared to notice when something is wrong. The sooner your horse is diagnosed with EPM, the better chances they will have for making a full recovery.

If your horse isn’t diagnosed or is left untreated with EPM, this can result in permanent neurological damage, and can be fatal.

How To Prevent EPM In Horses

Almost all horses are susceptible to EPM in America. This comes down to the transportation of horses and feed all over the country. 

That being said, there are a variety of different ways to help prevent EPM in horses. These preventive measures include but are not limited to:

Regularly Maintain Your Horse’s Water Sources

One of the most important ways to prevent EPM is to regularly maintain and clean your horse’s water tanks.

Your horse requires an average of 5 to 10 gallons of fresh water every single day, meaning that their drinking water is a prime place for harmful organisms to spread should you not be maintaining their drinking tanks properly.

Providing them with a fresh source of water minimizes the risk of them being affected by harmful organisms, and ensures that harmful bacteria aren’t able to breed.

What is EPM in horses?

Never Feeding Your Horse From The Ground 

To prevent your horse from getting EPM, you will need to ensure that you never feed your horse from the dirty ground. Feeding your horse from the ground increases the risk of contamination.

Bearing this in mind, you should make sure that you give them their hay from hay nets as opposed to the floor as this will minimize spillages and the risk of contamination.

Regularly Clean The Area Where Your Horse Eats

Making sure that you regularly clean the area and maintain a level of cleanliness is essential for the health of your horse.

Always make sure that you clean up any spilled food, as failure to do so can attract wildlife such as possums and rats.

The bacteria from their feces and urine can affect your horse, so ensuring that you keep the space vermin free is vital to protecting your hose from EPM.

Ensure That Your Horse’s Feed Is Protected From Wild Animals

While buying your horse’s feed in bulk can be cost effective, you will need to make sure that your horse’s feed is kept in secure containers and that your hay is locked away so that wildlife cannot contaminate it.

Making sure that you keep the area free from vermin is essential with the use of traps. That being said, when you are laying traps like these, you will always need to make sure that you get rid of any animal carcasses.

You should also never use poisons around your horses, as they could easily come into contact or ingest the poison.

Despite the fact that your horse is still susceptible to EPM, these are preventative measures that will help to keep your horse as protected as they can be from this deadly disease.

In Summary 

EPM in horses is a disease that affects both the spinal cord and brain. Hopefully after reading this article you have a better understanding of EPM in horses, and the signs that you should be aware of.

If you suspect that your horse has developed EPM, it’s essential that you contact your veterinarian immediately. It’s better to be safe than sorry, as leaving EPM can lead to irreversible neurological damage and can even be fatal for your horse.

The sooner you get them diagnosed, the better chance they have at recovering from this deadly disease.

Catherine McDowl
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