Horses Die from Accidental Hay Poisoning Skip to content

Horses Die from Accidental Hay Poisoning

Four horses suddenly died at a farm in Skagafjörður, North Iceland, last week. The cause is believed to have been hay poisoning, mbl.is reports.

horses-winter-snaefellsj-close_psArchive photo: Páll Stefánsson/Iceland Review.

Carcass poisoning can cause sudden death in horses, or a sickness characterized by muscular paralysis in the digestion tract and musculoskeletal system, eventually leading to death. The cause is a potent nerve agent, produced by the bacteria Clostridium botulinum, which under certain circumstances accumulates in hay rolls, according to the Icelandic Food and Veterinary Authority (MAST).

The bacteria that produce the neurotoxin can be hidden in the soil, where it forms spores as they wait for ideal conditions to come to life. Hay rolls that accidentally include animal carcasses, such as birds or mice, can create ideal conditions for the bacteria: decomposing remains in an airtight environment. Then, the bacteria begin to produce powerful neurotoxins which contaminate the hay and cause botulism or poisoning. Horses are particularly susceptible to this poisoning.

Such occurrences are usually local; only in rolls from particular fields in particular farms. The neurotoxins are odor-free and therefore it is not possible to recognize contaminated rolls although rotting carcasses can be an indicator.

Horses can be vaccinated to prevent this kind of occurrence, and that is done in Iceland’s neighboring countries. Here, this measure has only been taken in certain farms where poisoning has occurred.

The remains of the four dead Skagafjörður horses are now being researched at the Keldur Laboratories, for the purpose of diagnosis of symptoms and the elimination of other causes of sudden death; unfortunately there are no available ways to prove the existence of the neurotoxins.

According to hestafrettir.is the horses in question were owned by horsewoman and film producer Lilja Pálmadóttir, who with her husband, filmmaker Baltasar Kormákur, resides at the farm Hof, Höfðaströnd, Skagafjörður. All the victims were female, award-winning riding horses.

Lilja told Hestafréttir that her loss is great—these horses were among her favorites, especially the 11-year-old Glóð from Grund.

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