This spring, the Animal Health Trust is urging horse owners and equine vets to be vigilant against Atypical Myopathy, and encourage any cases to be reported through the Atypical Myopathy surveillance scheme (AMAG).
Download our simple guide to Atypical Myopathy, and help spread the word of the danger the condition presents to the UK’s horses by sharing it with horse owners via social media, email and printing out copies to display at your yard.
What is it?
Atypical Myopathy is a debilitating and fatal disease caused by the ingestion of sycamore seeds, commonly known as “helicopters”.
The sycamore seeds contain a toxin called hypoglycin A, which is highly toxic to horses. Once ingested, the toxin interferes with the typical operation of the horse’s muscles, blocking the beta-oxidation or the breaking down of fatty acids and leading to direct damage of cardiac and respiratory muscles. The toxin also has an indirect effect by causing renal failure.
Common signs of AM include:
- Mild to moderate colic-like signs
- Reluctance to move
- Dark urine
- Lying down
- Inability to raise the head
Call your vet immediately if your horse displays any of these signs after grazing in a field with or near to sycamore trees.
Why are we concerned in spring?
In 2014, the largest outbreak of AM ever reported in the UK occurred, with almost 200 horses affected. However, we expect the actual number of horses affected by the condition to be greater, as some cases may go unreported.
Current weather conditions along with the reproduction cycle of sycamore trees, whose seeds contain the toxin Hypoglycin A thought to cause AM, means that sycamore seeds are germinating and in turn being ingested by horses while grazing. Retrospective studies have shown that in the spring following an AM-heavy autumn, an increased number of AM cases can occur. It is assumed that the germinated seeds of maple trees may also contain a high concentration of hypoglycin A. As autumn 2014 saw a record number of cases, we unfortunately expect to see many more episodes this spring, and the first fatalities have already been reported.
We’re analysing data gathered through the AM surveillance scheme in a collaborative study with the University of Liege, with the aim of establishing factors associated to survival and other epidemiological characteristics of this disease in the UK. The disease has an alarming mortality rate, making it a great cause for concern for both vets and owners.
What can you do?
To minimise the risk of AM as best as possible, avoid pastures with Acer trees in autumn and early winter. Remove and burn any helicopter seeds from paddocks. Regularly check your fields and paddocks over the high risk season, as seeds can travel metres in windy conditions in to neighbouring paddocks. In scarce pastures, supplement your grazing with forage. Watch for acer seedlings in spring, and remove them. If you suspect AM, call your vet immediately.
Finally, if you do unfortunately experience Atypical Myopathy this spring, please report your case via the online reporting form. By sharing your experiences, you’re helping us find out more about this devastating disease and contributing to scientific research that may prove invaluable in the fight against Atypical Myopathy.
Download our Atypical Myopathy Fact Sheet
Atypical Myopathy Fact Sheet
Read the facts on AM by downloading our handy fact sheet.