What are Immune-Deficiency Diseases?
The horse’s immune system is very complex. It contains antibodies, white blood cells, and many other substances that help fight off infections, allergens, and other foreign invaders. The immune system also is made up of several different organs, such as the lymph nodes, liver, spleen, and thymus gland. Bone marrow also contributes to the immune system in horses. When abnormal cells or any foreign invaders enter the body, the immune system is responsible for defending the body and fighting them.
Immune-deficiency diseases in horses are common disorders that occur in many different forms. These immune system deficiencies prevent the horse’s system from fighting off any infections, viruses, or allergens, and cause the horse to be ill much of the time. A horse can have a primary immunodeficiency or a secondary immunodeficiency, and each type of immune system disease or disorder has many different categories and different symptoms. Primary immunodeficiencies are hereditary and secondary immunodeficiencies are acquired at some point in the horse’s life.
Unfortunately, immune-deficiency diseases in horses are very difficult to diagnose. The veterinarian must rely on the horse’s symptoms and clinical signs over time, while also relying on data from lab tests in order to determine a specific immune-deficiency in a horse.
Immune-deficiency diseases in horses present themselves in many types. These diseases cause the horse’s immune system to not be as effective as it should be in fighting many viruses, illnesses, diseases, and allergens.
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Symptoms of Immune-Deficiency Diseases in Horses
If your horse has a disease of the immune system, or immune-deficiency disease, he will have a variety of symptoms, depending on the type of disease he has.
- Illnesses, such as pneumonia, that recur
- Several infections that occur within a year
- Infections that occur in one or more places of the body
- Abscesses of organs
- Conditions or infections in which antibiotics are not effective against
- Failure to thrive or gain weight
- Weight loss
There are several types of immune-deficiency diseases in horses. Some are much more complex than others, such as the severe combined immunodeficiency, which has no mode of treatment. Types include:
- Cellular immunodeficiencies
- Humoral immunodeficiencies
- Phagocytic immunodeficiencies
- Complement immunodeficiencies
- Severe combined immunodeficiencies
Causes of Immune-Deficiency Diseases in Horses
Causes of immune-deficiency diseases in horses depend on the type of immune system disease the horse has. Causes can include:
- Lack or abnormal production of antibodies
- B Cells fail to develop
- Cytotoxic T Cells
- Decreased number of T Cells
- Inherited neutrophil dysfunction
- Deficiency in serum complement
Diagnosis of Immune-Deficiency Diseases in Horses
If your horse is exhibiting any of the above symptoms, or tends to be sick often without ever recovering, make an appointment with your veterinarian. He will do a complete physical exam and closely evaluate your equine’s symptoms. He will ask questions about the horse’s history of illnesses and gather more information from you on your horse’s overall health, his environment, his diet, and his physical activity.
Immune-deficiency diseases are difficult to diagnose, and the veterinarian will perform a variety of tests to get a closer look at his system in order to come to a diagnosis. Laboratory tests may include a complete blood count, biochemistry profile, and urinalysis. Blood serum levels, electrolytes, and lymphocytes will also be tested. The veterinarian will also want to know the levels of T Cells and B Cells, the immune-fighting cells in your horse’s blood. He may also perform other testing, such as testing of the tissue.
The veterinarian may also suggest genetic testing to find any congenital immune-deficiency disorders. Once all test results are back, the veterinarian will need to closely study the results. Combining the results with the symptoms your horse is having will help him come to a conclusion. Immune-deficiency diseases are difficult to diagnose, and relying on your veterinarian’s knowledge of symptoms, characteristics, and data from all tests will be essential.
Treatment of Immune-Deficiency Diseases in Horses
Due to the vast varieties of these diseases, treatment will greatly vary from minimal treatment and support to euthanasia. Treatment methods may include:
Therapeutic treatment may consist of controlling infections as quickly as possible and keeping your horse happy and free of stress. Keeping a close eye on your horse and paying attention to all symptoms can mean a proactive method of fighting any virus or infection.
In some cases, supplements may be recommended in order to boost your horse’s immune system. This is not always the case; however, as your veterinarian may not recommend this type of therapy. There are many formulas on the market today of herbal supplements that may help your horse’s immune system.
Serum and Plasma Boosters
Lyophilized equine immunoglobulin injections may be given to your horse to help boost his immunity. This may also help boost serum levels. Plasma infusions may also be recommended by the veterinarian and seem to be effective in certain types of immune disorders.
IV fluid therapy can be beneficial in keeping your horse hydrated, keeping his electrolyte levels up, and maintaining good circulation. All of these benefits are natural immune system boosters.
Your veterinarian may recommend antibiotic therapy for your horse’s immune system disorder or disease. This may be in the form of a combination of penicillin and a particular aminoglycoside.
Recovery of Immune-Deficiency Diseases in Horses
In terms of prognosis for immune system diseases in horses, the prognosis is always guarded. This is because there are so many types of immune system diseases that need to be considered, and your horse’s overall health and response to treatment will determine the individual prognosis.
Your veterinarian may recommend dietary changes, natural immune boosters, and other actions you can take in order for you to help your horse continue to live a happy and stress-free life.
For example, frequent complete blood counts can help you ward off any infections quickly, and your veterinarian may choose to come and perform blood work often. This depends on your veterinarian and your horse’s condition. Additionally, your veterinarian may mention to you the types of vaccines used in the prevention of this condition for any other horses you have. He may also discuss with you a booster shot, as this may be an option in the management of the immune system disease.
Immune-Deficiency Diseases Questions and Advice from Veterinary Professionals
Our horse was just diagnosed with autoimmune disease and put on a number of drugs. She started with sores on her back leg, between the heel and fetlock. Swollen legs but he appetite is good and she likes running in the pasture. The sores got worse so to the vet we went.
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We have a horse that the vet is not sure, and is suggesting an auto-immune disease. He is pretty baffled by it. Treatment has just been daily bathing of the sores, antibiotic, and steroid injection. He thinks it could be pemphigus. What else could we do? I am afraid we are looking at euthanasia. Symptoms: severe weight loss, lesions on the body, swelling in legs inhibiting her ability to move. She does still eat.
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