Botulism in foals less than 6 months of age: 30 Cases (1989-2002)

Pamela A. Wilkins, Jonathan E. Palmer

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Botulism has been recognized as a clinical entity in foals since the 1960s. Also known as "Shaker foal" disease, the toxicoinfectious form of botulism affects foals, with the highest incidence in the United States seen in Kentucky and the mid-Atlantic region. The disease is characterized by progressive muscular weakness caused by the action of botulism neurotoxin at cholinergic neuromuscular junctions. Increased number of episodes and duration of recumbency, muscular trembling, and dysphagia are seen in affected foals. Left untreated, the disease can be rapidly fatal, with death occurring secondary to respiratory muscle paralysis within 24 to 72 hours of the onset of clinical signs. Very mildly affected foals can survive with minimal treatment. Despite advances made in treatment of these foals, including administration of botulism antitoxin early in the course of the disease, there is still an impression that the disease carries a high mortality rate. The purpose of this study was to evaluate outcome in 30 foals <6 months of age diagnosed with botulism between 1989 and 2002 at the George D. Widener Large Animal Hospital, New Bolton Center. Two foals were euthanized for economic reasons early in the disease course, and 1 died while being treated. Survival of treated cases was greater than 96%. Approximately 50% of the cases required oxygen therapy, whereas 30% required mechanical ventilation. All foals, excepting 1 mildly affected foal, received botulism antitoxin. Mean duration of hospitalization was 14 days. With appropriate treatment, foals with botulism have a high survival rate.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)702-707
Number of pages6
JournalJournal of veterinary internal medicine
Issue number5
StatePublished - Sep 2003
Externally publishedYes


  • Clostridium botulinum neurotoxin
  • Horse
  • Neonate
  • Outcome
  • Ventilation

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Veterinary


Dive into the research topics of 'Botulism in foals less than 6 months of age: 30 Cases (1989-2002)'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this