Farm Ireland

Sunday 23 October 2016

'Within 18 months she was completely recovered'

Published 27/01/2016 | 02:30

Deborah Freeland and Diamond Chancer in action at the Dublin Horse Show in 2012. Photo: Toni Haberland.
Deborah Freeland and Diamond Chancer in action at the Dublin Horse Show in 2012. Photo: Toni Haberland.

One of the most dangerous organisms that can make a horse sick is the bacterium Clostridium difficile, yet Deborah Freeland knew little about it until she almost lost her own horse, Diamond Chancer, to what was suspected to be this very condition last summer.

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"I was told by the vets that it was more commonly seen in hospitalised horses, or those who had recently been on a course of antibiotics, " the Bray-based Riding Club enthusiast said of the incident which saw the 11-year-old undergo 12 days of intensive treatment at the UCD veterinary hospital last August.

As with humans, C difficile causes colitis (an inflammation of the colon) and severe diarrhoea in horses. Outbreaks tend to occur either in equine hospitals, or on stud farms - particularly affecting foals during their first week of life.

"It was touch and go for a good few days, and the vet had told me that he may not make it through the first 12 hours so it was a really worrying time as he had been so fit and healthy up to that, doing some amateur shows.

"He had been grazing in a field with a 35-year-old gelding and one evening when I was bringing him in he seemed off colour. He was severely dehydrated and had severe diarrhoea. My local vet Therese Holm from Horse Happy Veterinary Service in Brittas Bay ruled out colic and a few others things before calling the UCD Veterinary Hospital later that evening for further investigation.

"By the time we got to UCD, it was 10.30pm and we were met by the team who put him in an isolation unit and began investigating straight away; including blood tests, ultrasound scans and a rectal exam. They stabilised him immediately by putting him on a drip, various medications and monitoring him intensively throughout the night and following days."

A sample of his faeces was sent to an external laboratory for analysis. While they were able to isolate that C difficile was indeed present, they were not able to confirm if it was a strain of C difficile that causes clinical disease.

Unfortunately Ozzy had gotten sick on a Friday evening, and the sample was too aged by the time it reached the laboratory the following Monday to confirm or negate this suspicion.

"Dr Vivienne Duggan and her medicine team explained to me how C difficile is spread through an animal ingesting it from a contaminated environment. It is also possible that Ozzy may have already had low levels of C difficle in his gastrointestinal tract, and if he became stressed or immunosupressed for some reason; that may have facilitated it proliferating and causing illness.

"We have no idea how he got it as the older pony was absolutely fine and they were the only two in the paddock at the time. But after that we made sure to scrub everything in the yard. Dr Duggan also made sure to remind me that I always wash my hands thoroughly after handling him, as many of the bacteria that cause colitis in horses, including C difficile can make humans sick too."

"Thankfully he made a full recovery and I am most grateful to the team at UCD for everything. They were so thorough and saved his life. We had been saving up to buy a house, but a chunk of that was used to save him. He is my only horse so he means everything to me."

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