Alberta horse owners are on the alert for the spread of a deadly disease.
An outbreak of Potomac horse fever, which is fatal in up to 30 per cent of cases, has been declared in the province.
Erin Deems, executive director of The Saving Grace Animal Society in Alix, said the shelter cares for horses that are surrendered, as well as those that are injured.
Deems hadn’t heard of Potomac horse fever – a water-borne disease – for quite a while. But in the past couple of months, she has heard of three or four cases of the disease.
Deems said shelter staff are keeping a close eye on the horses and cleaning the drinking water bowls frequently.
The outbreak is a concern for Deems, but she says it’s manageable.
“Just keeping a close eye on livestock and checking on them throughout the day and noticing if anything is different, it’s OK,” she said.
“It’s just making sure we’re on top of it and keeping animals safe.
“If you catch it quick, the animals can survive it.”
Dr. Meg Irving at Riverstone Veterinary Services in Sundre said the clinic has seen three confirmed cases of Potomac fever this summer. That’s a higher number than what the clinic usually sees.
“And a couple of those were from Grande Prairie and Fort McMurray area,” Irving said.
The clinic’s veterianarians are aware of the outbreak in the province, but haven’t seen enough cases to call it an outbreak in the Sundre area.
Sue McIntosh thought her horse, Finnegan, looked a bit off, so she rushed him to a veterinary clinic a couple of weeks ago. The 13-year-old was diagnosed with Potomac horse fever.
“He was in critical care for three days, and then he was there for another couple of days on IV with his ice boots on,” says McIntosh, who runs a horse therapy program at Cremona.
Potomac horse fever produces mild colic, fever and diarrhea in horses of all ages, as well miscarriages in pregnant mares.
The bacteria lives inside snails, slugs and aquatic insects, such as mayflies and caddisflies. Horses eat the bugs while drinking water or eating hay or grass.
Infected animals can lose up to 100 litres of fluid per day.
The disease was first identified in 1979 in the eastern United States near the Potomac River, but it has since been identified in various other locations in the United States, as well as in Alberta and Ontario.
Irving said owners should monitor their horses carefully, and look for symptoms including lethargy, fever and diarrhea.
“It depends on the horse – it can manifest in 24 hours and some horses don’t have diarrhea for days,” Irving said.
“Almost all of them will have a fever, though.”
With files from The Canadian Press