EPM Threat to Horses from Opossums

Opossums and your horse’s health

Many horse owners have some awareness of diseases that can be contracted by horses and an understanding of steps to take to keep them healthy.  One disease that horse owners in North America (particularly on the east coast) should be aware of is EPM (Equine Protozoal Myeloencephalitis).

EPM is a neurologic disease which can be subtle and difficult to diagnose but no less distressing for the horse and its owner.  It is important that owners are aware of the disease as it can be fatal, particularly if it goes untreated.

EPM is caused by a parasite called Sarcocystis Neurona. The nasty parasite attacks the brain and spinal cord. Over time it can cause devastating and long lasting damage to the nervous system.

Equine Protozoal Myeloencephalitis can be treated and horses can recover well, if diagnosed and treated quickly. Horses usually show improvement after a few of weeks of treatment.

How is EPM Contracted?

The primary cause of EPM is from opossum feces.  Horses contract the disease from eating contaminated feed or simply by grazing.

What are the symptoms?

EPM can present itself subtly and severely.  It can present symptoms similar to several other equine neurological diseases. Symptoms include:

  • Changes in gait, lameness
  • Abnormal sweating
  • Problems balancing with lifted hoof
  • Incoordination (worse going up or down slopes)
  • Muscle atrophy, usually over shoulders
  • Paralysis of muscles of the eyes, face or mouth, evident by drooping eyes, ears or lips.
  • Mild depression
  • Trouble swallowing, dropping feed.
  • Leaning on a wall for balance
  • Loss of sensation along the face, neck or body.
  • A drooping lip or repeated facial twitch
  • Change in vision
  • Dropped feed or trouble swallowing
  • Head tilt
  • Drooping ear
  • Changes in behavior, including throwing the rider

How to prevent EPM?

As there are no preventable vaccines the best defense is to keep opossums away from horses and their feed. Keep exposed feed covered and remove garbage as soon as possible.

If you have a problem with opossums on your property, particularly if they pose a threat to your horse’s safety, don’t hesitate to call us for professional opossum removal, we serve most of central Pennsylvania.