Partnership formed to highlight the impact of Mycotoxins on horses

An innovative partnership has been formed to raise awareness and provide a comprehensive solution to the much-underestimated problem of mycotoxins in horses.

Rossdales Veterinary Surgeons has joined forces following a surge in the number of horses presenting with raised liver enzymes that can be attributed to mycotoxins.

Mycotoxins are produced by certain moulds commonly found in forages, mixed feed, grains and bedding, and are generally referred to as being of either ‘field’ (Fusarium and Endophyte toxins) or ‘storage’ (Penicillium and Aspergillus) origin.

They are implicated in a variety of acute equine health problems which can include liver disease, colic, hypersensitivity, abortions and neurological disorders. Chronic cases can lead to cumulative effects such as damage to organ function, reduced growth, infertility and respiratory problems.

It is important to understand that even with the best forage making practices mycotoxins can still be present. There are a multitude of environmental factors that can be attributed to mycotoxin contamination, so even when found at low levels, the issues can be caused from the interaction between the mycotoxin groups themselves.

Exposure to mycotoxins in pasture, mouldy conserved forage, purchased feeds and bedding presents a real threat to the health of equine animals. This exposure can also be long-term; many horses are high value animals with a much longer life span than agricultural livestock because of their status in human society. Horses need to be athletic, fit and involvement in competitions often means a higher level of stress as a result of travelling and competing. This can have a negative effect on the immune system, which means horses can be particularly susceptible to mycotoxins.

Economic implications and diagnostic issues.
The high value of horse breeding stock of both sexes means that any impact from mycotoxicoses on fertility and successful foaling is extremely costly. Any fertility or pregnancy problems should be thoroughly investigated. Unfortunately, symptoms will often be vague and vary greatly, making proper diagnosis very difficult. Careful recognition of any signs, post mortem diagnostics and thorough feed analyses are the only ways of making an accurate diagnosis of any mycotoxin-induced problem.

Mycotoxin sources
Pasture and storage forages: Horses and ponies are at risk from mycotoxins produced by fungi that live on pasture plants and in conserved forage. The threat from hay is lower than from silage, but the popularity of using small bales of high dry matter silage (haylage or baleage) has increased in recent years. Easier to make and often more palatable and of a higher nutritional value than hay, poor silage also brings with it a higher mould and associated mycotoxin threat.Compound feed toxins in the feed or those produced during storage. Unfortunately, many leisure horse owners do not check the quality of their feedstuffs. Additionally, feed may be left in poor storage conditions for long periods of time and this can also increase the risk of mould contamination.

Bedding. In temperate regions horses are often kept indoors for part of the year. This will expose them to mycotoxins from moulds in bedding materials, such as straw, which they can also eat. In addition, other equines, such as donkeys and mules, may be fed on straw because forage more closely matches their need for a very high fibre diet.

As symptoms are usually non-specific, the aim is to educate owners and encourage veterinary to consider mycotoxins as a cause, when it is seemingly difficult to get to the route of a problem.

Emily Haggett commented:

“We regularly see horses with liver disease. Rossdales Laboratories, our in-house clinical diagnostic laboratory, services the needs of our clinicians and those of a large number of referring vets throughout the UK. Our laboratory team frequently deals with blood samples and liver biopsies from horses with liver disease from across the country. Many of these results suggest an issue with mycotoxins. This highlights the need for vets and horse owners to take the problem seriously.”

Alltech’s UK Marketing Manager, Isla Baker-Browne said:

“We are delighted to be working alongside the team at Rossdales to increase awareness of the issues caused by mycotoxins in horses. Their extensive knowledge combined with our research into this field makes this a powerful partnership in the fight against mycotoxins.”

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