A fatal muscle disease affecting horses in the UK has been linked to sycamore seed and seedlings ingestion.
Atypical Myopathy (AM) causes damage and destruction to muscles involved in breathing, the heart and maintaining posture. Horses show a variety of clinical signs including trembling, pain, lethargy and eventual recumbancy. Risk factors for the disease have been identified as poor grazing with lack of supplementary forage, more than one horse can be affected in any location and disease is more likely in autumn.
Ways to decrease the risk of an outbreak include removal of seeds where possible, fencing off areas where sycamore seeds have fallen to the ground, supply extra forage if grazing is poor, reduce stocking densities and decrease time out at grazing.
The use of herbicide such as Graze-on should be discussed with the agricultural company manufacturing it.
You do not have to have sycamores either on your own land, or close by, for your horse to have access to sycamore seeds. The little helicopters travel quite a distance so please be vigilant on your grazing!
It is vitally important in the spring time to check your grazing and ensure that if you find any of the two-leaf seedlings (shown above) they are either sprayed or fenced off. Please do not ignore them!
Be vigilant for the "helicopter" seeds falling on your grazing. If you find any please remove them or fence off the area.
How common is it?
At the last count on 16th December 2016, 181 clinical cases compatible with the diagnosis of atypical myopathy have been communicated to Liege University and to the RESPE in 2016. These cases were recorded in Belgium (38 cases) and France (120 cases) Great-Britain (3 cases), Switzerland (6 cases), Germany (13 cases), and The Netherlands (1 case). 2015 was much worse in the UK for this condition whilst 2016 was not so bad because the conditions were less favourable for the sycamore seeds to be distributed.
We have had 3 cases at Deben Valley Equine over the last few years. 2 of these are dead.
Testing for Atypical Myopathy
There is now testing available at the Royal Veterinary College (RVC) and more information on their website or via Liege University.
Please see the link below for information on testing (plants & horses).