What are Besnoitiosis?
Besnoitiosis is mainly found in cattle, but there has been a surge in cases of affected horses in other countries such as Mexico, Africa and southern France. There are reported cases of besnoitiosis in donkeys within the United States, but no reported cases of affected horses. Some researches believe that mules, crosses between a male donkey and female horse, and hinnies, crosses between male horse and female donkey, are also susceptible to besnoitiosis. Young animals and those with a suppressed immune system are more susceptible to besnoitiosis.
Besnoitiosis is the development of cystic lesions on the body of the horse and in the throat and eyes of the horse. Besnoitiosis was originally called globidiosis and is generally not fatal to the animal.
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Symptoms of Besnoitiosis in Horses
Should you notice any of these symptoms, be sure to contact your veterinarian and schedule a visit. A thorough examination will be necessary as well as possible quarantine to keep other animals from becoming infected.
- Reduced appetite
- Weight loss
- Hair loss
- Skin lesions
- Ocular lesions
- Nasal discharge
- Increased fluid build up under the skin, or edema, in the head, neck, legs or abdomen
- Inflammation of the testicles
- Reduced milk production
- Increased breathing and pulse rate
Causes of Besnoitiosis in Horses
Besnoitiosis is transmitted by biting insects and ticks carrying the protozoan Besnoitia bennetti. It can also be transmitted by ingesting the feces of infected felines. Felines are considered primary hosts of the protozoa that cause besnoitiosis. The protozoa form cysts under the skin and in the mucous membranes of the upper respiratory tract as well as other tissues within the body including the eyelid and eye.
Diagnosis of Besnoitiosis in Horses
Your veterinarian will be able to diagnose besnoitiosis by taking a complete medical history of your horse as well as observing the clinic symptoms that are present. A skin biopsy will also be done to look for the presence of the besnoitia bennitti protozoan. An upper airway endoscopy may also be done to look at the nasal mucosa, larynx and pharynx for the presence of cysts or lesions.
In some instances, IFAT, or indirect fluorescent antibody testing, can be used to determine the presence of protozoa. There is no specific blood test for diagnosing besnoitiosis at this time.
Treatment of Besnoitiosis in Horses
Treatment of besnoitiosis is generally symptomatically. In other words, the symptoms are treated as there is no known effective treatment for besnoitiosis. Your veterinarian will review your horse’s case and adapt a treatment plan.
It is best to isolate the affected horse from other animals that are susceptible to besnoitiosis. Protection from biting insects and ticks is also recommended to reduce transmitting the disease. Insect sprays will reduce the risk of biting insects and ticks.
Antiprotozoal and Antimicrobial Treatments
These have been tried in horses and mules with varying results. There is no known antiprotozoal medication that will eliminate the besnoitia bennitti protozoa. Antibiotics tend to just treat the symptoms, not the underlying cause.
Treat the Symptoms
Your veterinarian will develop a treatment plan that will reduce the symptoms of besnoitiosis. This will give your horse relief from the symptoms that are causing pain or discomfort.
The best treatment for besnoitiosis is simply to prevent it from occurring. During the seasons when ticks and biting insects are prevalent keep your horse sprayed with an insect and tick repellent. Also, make sure that any cat feces that may be present do not come in contact with your horse’s grain or hay. You cannot control cat feces in the pasture, but you can minimize contact within the barn and feeding area.
Recovery of Besnoitiosis in Horses
Your veterinarian will have a guarded prognosis for your horse since there are no known treatments available and you will basically just be treating the symptoms. You can expect some improvement as the symptoms are being treated and the quality of life may improve for your horse, but long-term recovery is not typical. The immune system of your horse will eventually breakdown from the stress of the disease opening your horse up for additional illnesses or diseases.
As besnoitiosis progresses, the lesions or cysts on the skin and eyes and in the throat will become more painful and problematic for your horse. Once your horse stops responding to symptomatic treatments, euthanasia is generally recommended.