The owner of a horse recovering from atypical myopathy has shared his story to highlight not only the often fatal condition, but the vital need for early veterinary treatment.
Karen Albutt’s part-Connemara sport horse, Whittlie Burn Piccolo (Steve), spent a week at the Three Counties Equine Hospital where he was given less than a 25% chance of survival.
“Speed is what saved it, followed by an aggressive wash treatment,” said Karen H&H. “The vets said it’s usually such a lousy prognosis with atypical myopathy, so when they said he’s turned the corner, it was an absolute joy.”
The Albutts bought Steve in January for Karen’s 16-year-old daughter Isla with the plan to groom and race him in working hunter classes. He was supported this summer and worked in preparation for the winter break.
But three weeks ago, he got sick.
Karen said that Steve is kept at home, living outside, and that her daughter found him lying there that morning.
“He squealed and got up, and she didn’t think anything of it,” Karen said. “We have a vet staying with us and he said the same thing; looks good.
“It was about 8 or 9 in the morning and when I came back at lunchtime he was sitting in the field with his legs tucked under him. It had eaten all the grass around it, so it had been there for a while. I gave him the rug and saw that he was stretched out and his muscles were shaking. I called the vet and luckily he was close.”
The vet wasn’t sure what the problem was, but “knew something was wrong.” He cleaned blood and by the time Karen got to the Three Counties with Steve, they had results that confirmed atypical myopathy.
“Isla was at college and I had to call her and then take her to see him at the hospital and tell her she might not come home,” she said. “The vets said his [toxicity] the levels were so high, they thought he wouldn’t survive.”
Every day after Karen and Isla visited Steve, the vets told them they could still lose him.
“I think on Thursday they said he had turned a massive corner and they thought he was going to be fine,” Karen said. “They did all the heart checks and everything and they came back clear and said there’s no reason why he’s not going to make a full and complete recovery, which is amazing.”
Karen said she wanted to share her experience to raise awareness of the disease. H&H reported last month that there had been a surge in cases this fall.
“I think people need to be aware that it can happen,” she said. “We have two other horses grazing in the same paddock and their blood work has been good; only he had the toxicity. He must have grazed on windswept seed; people think it won’t happen to them, but it can happen to anyone’s horse and it doesn’t matter if you’ve had horses in that field for 30 years. I think this has been a very good season for seeds; every year is different, so don’t think your trees are safe.”
Karen said Steve is now bright, happy and eating well, with only some weight loss and muscle to show for his brush with the fatal condition.
Trainee Alice Addis agreed that it is vital that horses with atypical myopathy receive veterinary attention quickly.
“Rapid intervention and aggressive fluid therapy,” she said H&H, adding that horses are usually kept comfortable with pain relief and closely monitored. “The ones who make it to 72 hours and show improvement tend to be the ones who make it. Steve started showing signs of recovery at about 48 hours, which was amazing.
“We’ve had a few cases where the horses go home, which is fabulous, and there are those that get here quickly and are treated quickly.”
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Credit: Michael Dawson
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