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Update: Recall issued after 45 horse deaths attributed to alfalfa cubes


In an update to a news report originally published Dec. 14, Colorado-based Manzanola Feeds is voluntarily recalling certain lots of Top of the Rockies Alfalfa Cubes due to potential contamination by Clostridium botulinum. This organism can cause severe and potentially fatal toxicity in animals eating the contaminated food or coming into contact with contact areas that have been exposed to the product. So far, 45 horse deaths have been associated with this issue. 

The recalled product was distributed directly to the following states: Arkansas, Colorado, Illinois, Kansas, Louisiana, Missouri, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Texas, and Wisconsin. Further distribution may be possible, so it is important to check if you have this product.

The recalled Top of the Rockies Alfalfa Cubes are approximately 1-inch cubes, packaged in a 50-pound bag, and they are labeled with the following codes: 111222, 111322, 111422, 111522, and 111622. The code can be found on the front of the bag, toward the top of the bag. It is usually in the white portion of the bag but can sometimes be found in the brown portion of the bag. The code represents the month, day, and year the cubes were manufactured.

Earlier this month, Top of the Rockies began urging customers to discontinue feeding bags with dates Oct. 10 through Nov. 11. 

At the time, 15 horses became sick at a Quarter Horse farm in Vermillion Parish County, Louisiana, beginning on Dec. 3. Ten horses were euthanized due to rapid decline, two reportedly died within 48 hours of the onset of symptoms, and two were at the Louisiana State University veterinary teaching hospital for treatment. The status of the 15th horse was unclear. Hagyard Equine Medical Institute has also reported affected horses in New Mexico, Texas, and Oklahoma. 

Horses are highly susceptible to botulism toxins. Botulism is a neuromuscular disease caused by a bacterial toxin that affects all warm-blooded mammals. The disease is not caused by the bacteria, C. botulinum, but rather by the toxins produced by the bacteria.

There are multiple forms of botulism: Toxicoinfectious botulism or “shaker foal syndrome,” seen in growing foals between one and two months of age, and botulism types A and B in adult horses caused by spoiled hay or silage. Type C botulism is associated with feed and water contaminated by rodent carcasses, although, less commonly, C. botulinum can affect wounds. 

The process by which feed cubes are made can be the perfect storm for botulism contamination when the carcasses of rodents contaminate the processed feed and get mixed into ingredients. 

What are the signs of botulism?

  • Horses may begin looking stiff or walking with abnormal gaits. This may progress to muscle tremors, weakness, and then an inability to stand.
  • Paralysis may affect the eyelids and the tongue of the horse, causing pupils to become dilated. 
  • Once horses become unable to stand, colic and bladder paralysis may occur.

How can you treat botulism?

The University of Florida advises that you call your veterinarian immediately and keep your horse quiet. An antitoxin is available, but may not be in stock with your local veterinarian. Nursing care is integral to prevent eye ulcers, body sores, and pneumonia — especially in horses that cannot stand.

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