New Disease Diagnosed in Icelandic Horses Skip to content
Icelandic horse
Photo: Ian Funk.

New Disease Diagnosed in Icelandic Horses

The first cases of acquired equine polyneuropathy (AEP) have been confirmed in Icelandic horses. The disease first appeared in Scandinavia around 25 years ago, but has only now been confirmed in Iceland. Despite extensive research, its cause is unknown.

Not contagious

AEP is not a contagious disease and there is no evidence that it is hereditary, according to a press release from the Icelandic Food and Veterinary Authority (MAST). The disease is believed to be linked to hay, as the horses which have been diagnosed with the illness were all fed with the same hay from the same field. Not all horses who are the hay in question got sick, however, suggesting that there are other factors involved.

Affects young horses

Polyneuropathy is damage or disease affecting peripheral nerves in roughly the same areas on both sides of the body. The main symptoms of AEP are muscle weakness in the back of the body, causing the horses’ hind legs to collapse now and then onto their pasterns. Horses with the disease exhibit full consciousness, good appetite, and mostly normal behaviour.

AEP usually arises in horses between late winter and the month of May, and very few cases are reported outside of that time period. In Norway, Sweden, and Finland, it is common for there to be many cases at each farm where the disease is found, and diagnoses are usually bound to a specific region. AEP most often arises in young horses, though not foals. The majority of horses that show symptoms of AEP are cured with rest and new feed. However, according to statistics from Norway and Sweden, up to 30% of animals who contract the disease must be put down.

Only in Northwest Iceland

The first confirmed cases in Iceland were diagnosed at a large horse farm in Northwest Iceland. Detectable symptoms have been observed in 22 horses at the farm, all between the ages of two and seven. Of these horses, seven have been put down and one was found dead. There are possibly more young horses on the farm with mild symptoms.

AEP has not been found on any other farms in the country, and it can be assumed that the risk of discovering more cases this year is low, as most young horses are now grazing. There is a risk, however, that the disease will arise elsewhere in the future, as the conditions that cause it have now clearly appeared in Iceland.

MAST requests information

As the disease is new to the country, MAST requests notification of all cases where AEP is suspected or confirmed. Farmers needing further information can contact Sigríður Björnsdóttir at [email protected] or +354 893 0824.

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