Equine Protozoal Myeloencephalitis (EPM) is a disease which often strikes fear in the hearts of horse owners, and not completely without reason. The disease can be difficult to diagnose and conventional treatments haven’t always proven successful. The good news is that several alternative treatments, including herbal remedies are showing promise for helping to restore the health of EPM horses.
What is EPM?
Caused by Sarcocystis neurona or more rarely Neospora hughesi and carried by opossums (who pick up the protozoa by feeding on cat, raccoon, skunk or armadillo carcasses), EPM can develop in horses after they consume forage, feed, or water that has been contaminated by opossum feces containing infective sporocysts.
Once the sporocysts enter the horse’s digestive system, they move into the bloodstream where they can cross the blood/brain barrier and attack the horse’s central nervous system, causing a wide array of symptoms.
It’s been estimated that 50% or more horses have been exposed to the sporocysts that cause EPM, but only a very small percentage actually develop the disease. This is because immune function plays a critical role in the development of EPM. Unsurprisingly, horses with weakened immune systems are most at risk of developing the disease.
Some holistic practitioners believe the rising number of EPM cases is not due to an overabundance of opossums, but rather the fact that many of our horses’ immune systems are being overburdened by vaccines, chemical dewormers, antibiotics, and NSAID’s.
One reason why EPM can be difficult to diagnose is because it often mimics other conditions. To add to the confusion, diagnostic tests performed by veterinarians can also produce false negatives or positives. Diagnosis often involves a multi-pronged approach: ruling out other conditions, performing a neurological examination, and conducting laboratory tests. However, some horses are treated on symptoms alone.
Symptoms of EPM range from mild to severe and may include the following:
- droopy lip
- facial twitch
- trouble swallowing
- head tilt
- drooping ears
- uncoordinated movement in rear feet, often worse on one side
- intermittent lameness which often switches sides
- gait changes
- hind end weakness
- problems balancing when one hoof is picked up
- muscle atrophy often over rump or shoulders
- dragging a foot, especially when turning
- sore back
- unusual sweating patterns
- carrying tail to one side or away from the body
EPM has traditionally been treated with three drugs: Marquis, Protazil, or Re-Balance which have around a 60-70% success rate. These drugs won’t kill 100% of the protozoa, but reduce numbers so hopefully the horse’s immune system can finish the job. Unfortunately, not every horse has a strong enough immune system to take care of the rest.
This is where herbs can help. Many people use herbal products in combination with conventional treatments, while others have had success using herbs alone. The Holistic Horse has a new product designed by a leading equine veterinarian specializing in endocrinology, herbs and nutrition: ProtoEase contains a number of organic herbs known for their anti-parisitic, immune-boosting, and anti-inflammatory properties.
- Pau d‘Arco Bark
- Eleuthero Root
- Lemon Balm Leaf
- White Willow Bark
- Dandelion Leaf
- Milk Thistle Seed
- Cleavers Herb
- Calendula Flower
We’re currently offering ProtoEase at a special introductory price. If you’d like to learn more about this product, click here.