Equine botulism is a progressive neuromuscular disease caused by the neurotoxin produced by the anaerobic bacterium Clostridium botulinum. The bacterium is commonly found in soils and is closely related to the bacterium that causes tetanus (Clostridium tetani).
Depending on the amount of toxin involved, the disease can be extremely severe and quickly result in weakness and flaccid paralysis (lack of muscle tone with reduced ability to move). Other clinical signs include Dysphagia (difficulty in swallowing), reduced tongue tone and reduced ability to retract tongue, weak eyelid tone (droop), muscle fasciculations/tremors, colic and abnormal respiratory pattern and rate.
In severe cases death usually occurs as a result of respiratory paralysis when not treated promptly. Botulism can present in a variety of ways, including forage poisoning, wound botulism, and toxicoinfectious botulism (shaker foal syndrome).
The most common cause of botulism in horses is ingestion of feed or water contaminated with the toxin (not the bacterial spores themselves).
Can Equissage help?
You should not use Equissage if this condition is suspected as emergency veterinary intervention is of critical importance if the horse is to survive as an anti-toxin needs to be administered.
There is no data as to the known assistance or otherwise that use of Equissage can give. It really is a case of assessing individual cases, working closely with the vet and making a reasoned decision.
Much depends on the speed of onset and the cause - and how quickly the anti-toxin is given - as to whether Equissage can be of any benefit so as not to compromise the horse further. Remember that with Botulism the horse can feel everything - pain, hunger, thirst, the need to urinate, fear, etc. but is unable to move as it is motor nerves that are affected, the sensory ones are not. This means that the horse's system (organ function) becomes paralysed, respiratory paralysis often results in the horse's death (euthanasia).
Logical reasoning as to the benefits of using Equissage such as helping with muscle function, its stimulatory effects, aid in improving circulation, venous and lymphatic drainage (elimination of toxins), etc. indicates that its use can be invaluable. Also deep massage is known to help stimulate nerves and their regeneration. Most affected horses are soon recumbent and this necessitates the requirement to roll the horse over periodically to minimise the risk of muscle damage through compression; Equissage can help with this too as its cycloidal action will "move" the muscles. The horse will also be fed intravenously; Equissage will help in the circulation of those nutrients throughout the body. Concern would however be that if a horse is in pain but cannot show this, or the respiratory muscles are already compromised then Equissage use is not feasible or humane.
However, Equissage will come into its own once it is established that the horse is showing signs of recovery. Horses do make a full recovery (or it certainly appears that they do) without long lasting negative effects, so using Equissage as part of the rehabilitative process can only aid the intense management programme that will be required.
Little and often - the "less is more" philosophy on a very low setting. The horse with Botulism is a very sick horse so he will not want an Equissage Pad strapped to him - that is if he is managing to stand as most patients are recumbent for a few days; better just to lay the Pad over the horse's back, or if he is down over his side. The Hand Unit can be applied gently to other parts of the body. Several short sessions throughout the day will be of more benefit and minimise the risk of over-stimulation particularly as the horse will have a catheter whilst he is unable to urinate. Horses this sick readily become depressed which does not aid in recovery (as with people), as the sensory nerves will be functioning normally, a very gentle massage will provide a psychological "lift".