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Nursing a horse through AHS | African Horse Sickness

African Horse Sickness is a disease endemic to certain parts of Africa. It is thought to be a Zebra virus carried by midges. It can be a a serious disease with high mortality, but many horses do recover. There is a vaccine but its effectiveness is hotly debated. Standard veterinary treatment, which is aimed at lowering fever with anti-inflammatories such as bute and treating potential secondary infection with antibiotics, does not produce good results generally. Consequently, horse owners have been looking at other ways of dealing with it.

Supportive nursing is vital as the horses get extremely ill. This is one horse that we dealt with successfully in the Autumn of 2011, here at Perseverance in the Karoo. In the interest of sharing information, this is what we did…

Fire’s treatment for AHS, May 2011

The horsebox in the veld collecting Fire and her foal.

Fire is a purebred Arabian broodmare, a former endurance horse, vaccinated for AHS by vets and the vaccinations recorded in her passport over many years. She had a foal at foot and was two months in foal again.

During this outbreak, the Perseverance broodmares in the veld were checked daily. Fire presented with fever in early May. She was treated with an oral dose of MMS. Often this is sufficient to stop a mild case from progressing. There were a few other mares with fever for whom this was sufficient. In her case it was not.

The next day she was given IV 6 ml MMS (mixed with 30 ml 10% strength citric acid solution, allowed to activate and further diluted with Ringer’s lactate) and left in veld with her herd. Next day she was no better, she would become fatigued after walking a short distance. We brought the horse box to her and transported her and her foal back to the farmyard. The swelling over her eyes was hard to the touch.

The swelling above Fire’s eyes.

We restrained her and the foal in a small pen to prevent further fatigue. We blanketed her when the weather cooled. Her lungs continued to fill and she became very short of breath. She started lying down. I feared she would suffocate if it became any worse. I obtained a single dose of Salix from the vet and gave that. She found some relief and urinated. Body swelling and body pain worsened (as we would expect from the Salix), but I felt this was worth the extra time gained in this particular case, the lesser of two evils. We then moved her to a stable under an infrared lamp, and this is what she was given during the first, intensive, nursing period:

  • She was treated orally with 2ml MMS (activated with citric acid, allowed to form chlorine dioxide, and then diluted with water) every hour during the daytime.
  • At night she was injected with Vitamin C, Tioctan-Vet & Phosamine Stimulans.
  • We also gave Allergex antihistamine pills to reduce swelling.
  • She was fed as much oats as she would eat, lucerne and grass hay were available, and ad lib water. She had a good appetite, which is common with AHS.
  • Salt (very important) she was given finely ground Himalayan Rock salt.
  • Magnesium: Either MagPhos tissue salts or Epsom salts.
  • 10 ml DMSO oral dose diluted to 50% in water, dosed many times a day.We also wiped DMSO on swollen areas of the head, neck and shoulders, to help relieve pain and oedema.
  • Solal Ribose: a tablespoon many times per day.
  • Infra-red lamp on in stable to keep her warm and promote healing.

The oedema on Fire’s belly.

Fire was extremely stiff in her shoulders, neck and quarters. The appearance was similar to the symptoms of tying up syndrome, commonly known as Monday Morning Disease. Her muscles were hard with fluid accumulation. It was very painful. She spent a lot of time lying flat on her side, resting her neck which was very swollen and sore. She was very fatigued. After a few days the swelling over her eyes became softer, (boggy) as the fluid pressure reduced.

We nursed Fire intensively for a week, dosing her frequently through the day and checking on her through the night. Once we felt she was out of danger we took her on short walks and brought her back to the stable again. The mild exercise was to improve circulation and help clear the oedema. The swelling sank down to her belly, chest and legs.

It took about two weeks to clear completely, and eventually Fire made a complete recovery. Her foal was fine and she produced a healthy foal in Feb 2012.

Fire and her new filly, grazing happily, 9 months later. This filly was born on 7 February, and showed no ill effects from the AHS her dam suffered when she was 2 months in the womb.

Here are some precautions which we take to help ward off AHS.

Laura Seegers, March 2012


About Perseverance

PERSEVERANCE Arabian & Endurance Horses have special Arabian bloodlines, they have functionally beautiful bodies, and they do endurance barefoot. TEAM PSV: Francois & Laura Seegers, Gurth & Rosemary Walton, Lucy Dixon, Donalyn Hennessy & Ashley Gower. www.endurancehorse.co.za



  1. Pingback: The Prodigal Goose « Perseverance Endurance Horses - 14 December 2012

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