The herd falls ill

There are two things that should tug at any feeling heart string – a sick child and a sick animal.  Not only are they suffering from the discomfort of the ailment, but both share a somewhat confused aspect, as if unsure why they are being punished in this way.  Depending upon the age, you can try to explain to the child – but there is no ability to explain to an animal.

As parent or caretaker, you share some of the discomfort as well as the bewilderment at why this had to happen to your loved one.  But mostly, you feel rather helpless.  This is something you cannot make right, yet you know it will not be ending in an hour or a day … or longer.  Then there is always the worry that it might get worse.  All of that is hard enough with one child or animal – imagine it with four.  I couldn’t … until now.

Noble was the first to fall.  The cough started while I was away; by the time I got home, the snotty nose was obvious.  A few days later, while I was working with her, Tally began to show the heavy nasal discharge.  The next morning, Coffee joined the group, followed later in the day by Roxie.  Nash is the only one who has yet to show symptoms.

For the last several days, the barn has been a cacophony of snorts and coughs.  Large lungs make for loud coughs!  It’s a dry cough they’ve had, and each one makes me wince just a little, knowing how painful that can be.  All have also had fevers for some period – from half a day to a couple of days.  Walking in at feeding time is like walking into a sick bay.

I consider myself fortunate to have worked for an equine veterinarian for several years.  Along with providing me treatment skills that have saved a lot of money, it has also resulted in an enduring friendship with said veterinarian.  In times like this, she is a wealth of information.  So, at the beginning of the week I picked up the phone to find out what I was dealing with.

The news I received, though not bleak, was not the simple little cold I was hoping for.  It seems this bug, which has been making the rounds all summer, is rather persistent and nasty.  Along with the symptoms I’ve observed, many horses have sore throats and go off their feed.  Typical duration is about two weeks, and around half of the horses end up with an infection that requires ten days of antibiotics.  Not a cheap prospect if all four end up requiring it!  Definitely not convenient when we were on a roll – but it’s hard to feel sorry for myself when I listen to the painful coughing around me.

One evening I walk through the dark barn, and notice Tally placidly gazing at me – the hay at her feet left untouched.  I walk over and she presses the side of her face against my chest, as I rub her forehead.  It is difficult not to see the parallel with a sick child, seeking comfort from its mother.  The heartstrings are plucked.  I mix her up a mash, adding some Bute for discomfort and fever.  She slowly begins to slurp it up, and it seems to bring her some peace.

The next morning, Noble is starting to show improvement.  However, I’m not long at work before I get a text – Tally is down and not interested in eating.  There is no other sign of distress, and I’m too far away to do anything myself, so I text back to give her more Bute and report her progress.  It’s a helpless feeling knowing a loved one is suffering and you cannot do anything for them.  I was relieved to hear later that she’d gotten up and happily eaten the Bute-laced mush.

As I write this, everyone is showing signs of improvement.  Coughs still herald us when we enter the barn, but spirits and appetites are better.  It’s a relief to see Tally once again interested in her dinner!  All signs, at the moment, indicate that we will likely escape the antibiotic routine.  I’m sure the horses would share my gratitude on that point, if I could explain it to them.

An interesting side note on this particular bug – Nash, now 23, seems to have been spared.  The other horses my vet has seen spared, in barns where the bug has spread, are all over the age of 20 (a 19 year old and a 20 year old had to be treated with antibiotics).  While not entirely conclusive, it seems to indicate that we are dealing with a virus that probably made the rounds in this area over two decades ago.  You learn so much when you are friends with a veterinarian!

Be good to your horses!




One thought on “The herd falls ill

  1. Interesting that the older horses seem to have retained some immunity. I share your empathy with the ailing ones though. so hard to see them feeling miserable. Hope all will be completely recovered soon.


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