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Laura: 'Toxins in straw were the cause of my horses high liver values'

Laura Scheepers is a Dutch show jumper and she runs together with her mother Joyce LS Stables in Sevenum. She is also an ambassador for HELTIE horse®. Laura trains young show jumpers, not only for herself but also for her clients. Laura had to deal with strange complaints with her horses this year. An extensive search eventually led to the straw.

Less energy and bad coat

“I had a four-year-old horse”, Laura begins her story. “And that horse had very little energy and a bad coat. You just saw that something was wrong. My mother suggested to have blood drawn by the vet. The blood test showed that the horse had very high liver values. That was strange, because where does such a thing come from? The horse also had yellow gums, which also indicates liver problems.”

Possible causes of high liver values

When a vet finds high liver levels in the blood, there can be various causes for this. Think of gallstones, worms, virus infections (for example with the herpes virus), bacterial infections, toxic substances, immune problems or tumors. Specialized examination with ultrasound equipment is often recommended, or the horse must go to the clinic for a liver biopsy. Toxins that cause liver problems in a horse are for example: Ragwort in the pasture, pesticides in feed or too much iron in the drinking water. Mycotoxins can also cause poisoning. These are toxins that are released by certain moulds. These moulds can grow in the meadow, on the hay or on the straw.

All horses tested

“Our first thought went to the hay, as the cause of the high liver values,” Laura continues. “That's why we had blood taken from all horses. Then it turned out that three other horses also had very high liver values. One mare had somewhat lower values and that made sense in retrospect, because she never eats straw. The vet then took samples of both the hay and the straw. This showed that there was a fungal toxin in the straw. It is a fungus that already grows on the plant before the straw is harvested. It is a natural fungus and was not caused by improper storage or pests. The straw looked really great, there was nothing to see.”

Acute on shavings

“It took two weeks before the results of the tests were there and in the meantime the horses were still standing on that straw. In retrospect, I think if it's just bale, you won't notice much of it. But when you have a whole batch of straw with such fungus in it, it can cause problems. We have put all horses on wood shavings immediately. Four weeks later we had blood taken again and then everything was actually fine, the four-year-old who had the highest liver values showed slightly elevated values.”

Medication and detox

“The first week we had liver medication from the vet, then of course we did not know that it was about the straw,” Laura explains. “But in hindsight that was just counter productive. All horses have now had a detox (HELTIE horse® Detox) for two weeks. They clearly have a lot more energy now, it really makes a world of difference.”

‘Investigate if you have any suspicions’

“If we hadn't taken blood we might not even have found out there was something wrong with the straw. So my tip to everyone is: if your horse doesn't feel fit, it can really be the most unlikely things. Something you really can't think of yourself. Our straw looked great, but it was still very treacherous. Take a good look at your horse and have him examined. If you have a horse that doesn't look fit, have blood drawn to see what's going on in his system. And then look for the cause. Giving medication or, for example, cleaning up the liver and kidneys with a detox is of little use if you don't find the source.”   Sources: University Gent: liver problems in the horse. https://www.ugent.be/di/laim/nl/dierenkliniek/dierenkliniekpaard/leverproblemenpaard

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