Atypical Myopathy



Hi everyone, I would like to share with you my experience with Atypical Myopathy, last year my Horse Kai unfortunately had a huge battle with this devastating Disease.
I felt compelled to write this Blog to let other readers/horse lovers know about this disease which is also known as Sycamore Poisoning.

The main reason I wanted to write this is that during my experience, I found there to be very little detailed information and support available.

One Friday in October of last year, I did all my usual things with Kai, feed was normal, small amount of long reining and he was very responsive as usual. However throughout the day I thought he just didn’t seem himself, it was really just an instinctual feeling. I checked on him several times and he seemed fine, grazing as normal in his paddock with his friend.

I woke on Saturday morning very early, went straight to the yard, my instinct was right- I knew straight away he was really ill. I phoned the vets straight away, while waiting for the vet I stayed with Kai and he repeatedly kept trying to lower his head to graze, but lifted back up straight away as if it was too painful to reach the grass. He also whinnied every time I walked anywhere near him, it was like a cry for help, I felt unbelievably heartbroken for him.

The vet turned up within ten minutes, assessed Kai and said “this lad is seriously very poorly”.
We proceeded to get him from the paddock to the stable, this was a huge ordeal as he really found it near impossible to walk a few steps. The vet, my husband and I, pulled and pushed Kai and I willed with everything in me that he could make it to the stable.

My lad made it, it was the longest walk over such a short distance that we had ever experienced. The vet proceeded to do checks on Kai, temperature normal, although he looked sweaty, heart rate was 88 as opposed to normal heart rate of around 42. The vet suggested trying Kai with a little feed in a bucket and he ate all of it without hesitation.

Due to the vets concerns with severe dehydration, high heart rate, inability to move/walk, we made the decision to send Kai straight away to Leahurst Equine Hospital.
Luckily for me, my friend Cath was there straight away with her horsebox and her lovely pony Murphy as a travelling companion for Kai, as it was a long time since Kai had travelled. Even now we cannot understand how Kai managed to climb the ramp into the horsebox, but it was honestly my opinion that he knew he needed help and simply knew he had to get in the wagon.

When we arrived at Leahurst, the vets checked Kai and said “we honestly don’t know how this lad is still standing”. They did blood tests and instantly thought he had Atypical Myopathy/ Sycamore Poisoning.
His blood was as thick as syrup and they proceeded to get a drip in him straight away as he was severely dehydrated, he had tubes up his nose, stomach pumped, injections, there was so many vets and students, I knew he was in the best place.

After a couple of hours the vets got Kai settled in the intensive care stables, where I had to say goodbye to my brave lad, he was a fighter, I knew that, but leaving him was upsetting and extremely difficult.

I arrived home and checked on Splash, Kai’s best friend, he was absolutely distraught without Kai.
Going through the usual routine of feeding etc, but only putting one feed bowl out was very upsetting.
I gave Splash a cuddle and told him not to worry, we were doing our very best to get his best friend back safe and well.

We received regular updates every day on Kai’s progress, he was on multiple drips, pain medication and 24hr care in a heated stable. It was touch and go for the first couple of weeks and I had to face the possibility that the outcome could be the worst, as around 10% or less of horses actually survive.

Kai was extremely brave and determined to survive as he refused to lie down, horses with this condition usually lie down and as the poison attacks all the muscles, they usually cannot get back up.
Eventually though he was so tired that he did lie down and he was experiencing terrible muscle tremors, he struggled to stand, his determination was unbelievable, he actually pushed with his head on the stable wall to force himself to stand. He cut all above his eye, but he was up. This seemed to be the turning point and he slowly started to improve, he spent 3 weeks in Leahurst but everyday I went to visit him, a little more of the real Kai was there. Recognition when he saw me, a little anxious as we were leaving and an odd neigh as another horse was lead passed his stable.

The last and most wonderful phone call I received from Leahurst said, ” your lad is out of the woods” and ” you can come pick him up at the weekend”.

I was ecstatic, emotional and scared all at the same time. My next thought was, I have to continue with the nursing care for Kai for quite a while, he just had me, after having several vets and students 24/7 this was very daunting for me, but I gave him all my very best.

My lad has a heart of Gold, he was determined to survive and I was determined to do every possible thing to help him. My vet said Kai was the only horse he had ever come across that had survived this disease.
Nearly Seven thousand pound later and lots of looking after at home and Kai is doing well.

Leahurst were amazing and I will always be very grateful to everyone that took such amazing care of Kai, Thank you to you all.
Thank you also to my amazing Friend Cath for being so quick to help with her horsebox transporting Kai to and thankfully back from Leahurst and for taking me to see Kai throughout the weeks he stayed there, Thank you Cath x
My friend Yvonne was also brilliant taking me to see Kai and being such a great support throughout, Thank you Yvonne. My family especially my Mum and Dad were there every step of the way making sure that we had everything we needed, Thank you both xx My husband Tony is an amazing person, he has been my rock for many years and looked after me and both my lovely lads all the way through, Thank you xx I just hope I can be such a friend to you all as you have been to me, I am so lucky to have you all.

Kai is now almost back to his old self and has recently been seen bucking and cantering round his paddock with his best friend Splash, what a truly amazing and fabulous sight that was.

Please be aware of the danger signs for this disease
Lethargy, inability to walk/move freely.
Normal Temperature, but sweaty appearance.
Massively high Heart rate, more than double the normal rate.
Lowering head to graze but unable, as if in too much pain.
Dark coloured urine.
Red or Purple gums.
Neighing fretfully ( as if a cry for help ) when you approach.
Shows signs of hunger and ability to eat a feed even though very poorly.

Sycamore trees have different levels of potency in the ( Helicopter) seeds, some have none, some have a very high level of poison, according to the information the vets told me, it is possible that ONE SEED of a high potency of poison could cause this disease, research also suggests the leaves and seedlings are also potentially poisonous.

Always remove any leaves and seedlings from paddocks, leave plenty of hay for extra forage, always off the ground, in haynets etc. Provide a salt lick in paddocks at all times.
Try to have mixed grazing, particularly with sheep as sheep eat all the seeds and seedlings with no problems.
My boys now live with 3 sheep, this is expensive with regard to fencing but so worth it. Thank you to my livery owner Samantha as she was great buying the sheep for us and helping with the fencing, Thank you xx
The key times of the year that horses are more susceptible are Autumn and Spring, so rotate paddocks away from any trees that you are unable to remove and bringing horses in overnight is also helpful. Please be aware that the very young and old horses obviously are a little more prone to this disease but Vets told me that there are no horses more susceptible than others, so please be cautious.

I hope you never experience any problems with your horse with regard to this devastating disease, but if you do, PLEASE always have hope and always get help from the vet straight away, as the sooner they receive treatment the more chance of survival.

sycamore seedling
A Sycamore seedling

Thank you for taking the time to read this and I hope it has been a help with information and HOPE
There is always Hope xxxx

Link to Sycamore identification