Will 'possums urinating on hay kill horses if they eat the hay?

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A man told my husband that if horses eat hay that an oppossum has urinated on, the horses will die. Is that true? If so, will the hay kill other livestock?

We have lots of 'possums around here and that don't tend to bother anything (except occiasionally eating cat food on the back porch) So I've had kind of a live and let live attitude about them.

It appears to me that if this was true, we'd have an awful lot of horse dying...

-- Suzy in 'Bama (slgt@yahoo.com), February 15, 2001


I've not heard that one, but no, it's not true. You are correct in that, considering the high number of 'possums we now have wandering about, and they being wild animals who tend to go whenever and wherever the urge strikes, we'd have horses and other farm animals keeling over all over the place. 'possums do have a bad habit of getting after chickens at times. Other then that, they're harmless.

-- Steve in TN (lynswim@mindspring.com), February 15, 2001.

Nooooooooooo! This is a good one.It isn't sanitary but there is no such thing as "Poison Possum Piss". Except for maybe that stuff that Uncle Leroy used to brew up down in the holler.

-- Greg (gsmith@tricountyi.net), February 15, 2001.

Possums are the only known carrier of a disease in horses called EPM (Equine Protozoal Myeloencephalitis). This is a nasty muscular/neurological disease in horses. Exposure occurs thru possum feces which horses ingest thru feed, water, grass, anywhere there may be possum feces. Not all horses infected end up with a problem but sufficent numbers do that it is common practice around all horse ranch's to get rid of any population of possums. I would suggest that you do not allow them any access to your hay area's and discourage their visiting you by not allowing them access to cat food. Treating a horse who gets this disease will run over $1,000 with no certainty of a full recovery.

Basically if you have horses you don't want any possums around.

-- Stacia in OK (oneclassycowgirl@aol.com), February 15, 2001.

I second what Stacie says. EPM is a very serious and incurable disease for horses. Prevention is the only solution. Keep your feed in critter proof containers, your hay off the ground and don't feed your horses on the ground.

The very first sign of EPM infection is the horse will begin dragging their hind toes. At this stage, the disease is manageable if diagnosed and treated immediately. By time it is obvious something is wrong, it is usually too late. Confirming a diagnosis costs around $1,000 as it involves a spinal tap.

We have a friend who recently had to have her horse put down because of EPM. He had gone totally blind and was very unstable on his feet. The vet told us that it is carried by possums and raccoons in our area, but is not contagious from horse to horse. We were also told that it is running rampant in Kentucky.

-- Laura (gsend@hotmail.com), February 15, 2001.

A guy here at the horse magazine where I work was just telling me about that disease. I'd never heard of it until five minutes ago. He said it's bad if your horse gets it.

It's always something, ain't it?

-- Joe (jcole@apha.com), February 15, 2001.

I nearly wet myself I started laughing so hard when I saw the title of this posting! Well I figured it was a joke but apparently some others seem to think this is a possiblility. I don't disagree with the others but the fact is you are about as likely for an animal to get sick from a bird pooping on your place. It's one of those things that could happen but doesn't happen often and there is really not much you could do about it. You could shoot every opossum on your place and more would move in. I've been around horses most of my life....know tons of people that are horse nuts and I have never heard of this happening. Beware the thunder of butterfly wings :o).

-- Amanda in Mo (aseley@townsqr.com), February 15, 2001.

There was a time when "no one" had heard of AIDS either.

-- Joy F (CatFlunky@excite.com), February 15, 2001.

Amanda, I wouldn't want psittacosis either.

-- Laura (gsend@hotmail.com), February 15, 2001.

EPM has been in all the horse magazines for about the last three years BIG time, if you read things like Equus, The Horse, and other health related magazines. It's a real problem, not a scare, as anyone who has a horse that has had it will tell you. We're at the northern end of the opossum range, and even so, my vet is starting to see an increase in the number of infected horses that he has to euthanise. Don't kid yourself, it's spreading.

I will also add to what Stacia and Laura said that it is also important not to leave an open grain bin that the 'possoms can crawl into. Most horse owners use sweet feed in some form, and that draws both raccoons and opossums, same as the cat food.

I had not heard that it had crossed over to raccoons as yet, but Mike and I have been speculating on THAT event for a couple of years now, since we're both concerned about the EPM spread across the US (Mike is my horse vet). I asked him if it had been found in raccoons yet, because we don't have opossums this far north, but if it crossed over to raccoons, who are very similar in habits and ARE all over around here and into barns, we could be looking at a serious problem. At that time, it was not present in raccoons. I HOPE it hasn't spread to them!!

-- Julie Froelich (firefly1@nnex.net), February 15, 2001.

Take this stuff seriously, if you have horses. I would shoot a possum near the barn to protect my horses. I have seen this disease and it is horrible. I watch a good friend's horse with EPM, I was feeding the horse at the time and thought it had a stroke. I think they spend more than the 1,000 on the spinal tap and medicine twice a day (one hour before or after (can't remember) eating something. This horse took a year before you could put a bit back into its mouth and of course never was shown again. The child probably didn't care as much about his show days coming to an end but it was a very sad case. I have been to Vet Siminars on this disease. They say all horses will probably test positive for it in a blood test but its that one time when they actually come down with it.

-- Debbie (bwolcott@cwis.net), February 15, 2001.

I'll be damned.I learned somthing here.A menenageal dwelling protazoa.That would tend to mess up the nervous system of any critter that it gets into.I wounder why horses are so suseptable to it.I feed hay that has been contaminated by possum urine(not on purpose) on occasion to llamas and goats and so far no ill effect.I have not kept horses for about a decade so this was a new one on me.When I had them before we did not have very much wildlife to speak of around us.I'm glad some other folks got on top of this and let us know about it.It had the sound of yet another urban(countryside?)legend hence my flippant answer.thank you

-- Greg (gsmith@tricountyi.net), February 16, 2001.

Research indicates that there may also be a problem with skunks but nothing is conclusive. I've read, I believe this was in "The Horse" last year, that the most common place a horse is going to pick up the protozoa is in water, usually a pond but grain contamination is also a problem.

I hate opossoms because of this hidious disease. I'll actively try to hit them with my truck. I shocked my husband the first time I hit one, I'm just not the type of person to do something like that but a friend lost a wonderful young, promising warmblood because of EPM.

Stacy Rohan--opossom hater in Windsor, NY

-- Stacy Rohan (KincoraFarm@aol.com), February 16, 2001.

Thank you Suzy for bringing this up. I don't get all the horse magazines anymore, and didn't know about this. We just have one Donkey and a pony, but last spring trapped and killed a possum that was getting the chickens. I don't like possums, they are nasty. In 4 years only saw the one. It's kinda scarey about it running wild in Kentucky. I better do some searching to keep informed of all these things. I take it there is no vaccine as of yet? Thank you all again, love this forum and you all.

-- Cindy in Ky (solidrockranch@hotmail.com), February 16, 2001.

This is a very good example of why this forum is here,isn't it. sharing info and first hand knowledge, How many will be sorry they missed it?

-- Thumper (slrldr@aol.com), February 16, 2001.

Start supporting the fur industry. Fight off the anti-trapper crowd and let the fur harvesters keep the possums numbers down. If we don't control the populations, the ever growing urban sprawl, will create even greater populations. The increase of nuisance animals and mother natures ways of reduction will come into play. I.E. distemper, rabies etc...

-- Roscoe Rotten (rkphipps@simflex.com), February 16, 2001.

I've heard of a similar disease spread mostly by deer where a meningeal parasite enters the brain and spine from grazing contaminated pastures. I have one friend who lost at least one goat and another who lost a llama. I heard about a cow that exhibited symptoms but I wasn't able to find out any diagnosis.

Treatment is very expensive with some high powered wormer but the animal if pregnant will abort and will be affected for its lifetime. She can be bred later if the bloodline is particularly valuable.

I wonder why we are seeing all these new diseases or is it just a matter of better science to isolate them? Or maybe "better science" is the source?

-- marilyn (rainbow@ktis.net), February 17, 2001.

Equine protozoa myeloencephalitis (EPM) is a progressive neurologic disease of horses found in both North and South America. The disease was first identified in 1964 by J.R. Rooney, who recognized the protozoa in spinal cord lesions in Standardbreds.

EPM aside, and unlike other critters, most horses won't eat on soiled pasture, hay, etc., when clean feed is available.

-- ~Rogo (rogo2020@yahoo.com), February 17, 2001.

Don't think it can't ahppen. My daughter's first horse contracted EPM even while living in a nicely kept stable in the city. Possums and similar carriers are very adaptable to people's ways and are on the increase. This disease is real and has nothing to do with bird poop (mentioned earlier) The horse was essentially useless afterwards, except as a way of disposing of feed and as a companion horse and she had to retire to a humane ranch. If I see an opossum on my place, now that I have a few acres and a young colt in the pasture, I will shoot first and ask questions later, as the saying goes. Protect all hay and feed and try to control vermin populations or you can sit with a paralyzed horse at 3 a.m. hoping the vet can do something - your call.

-- Eric Deci (ehd1958@yahoo.com), February 26, 2001.

North Carolina is experiencing it too. Not that rare anymore. In fact, my TB has an exam on Wed. which may result in an EPM test. I really don't think he has it, but who knows..do any of you know more defined symptoms and how long after exposure they get bad symptoms. Also, is it possible for an EPM horse to be fine one day, not so good the next, and then fine again...if it is progressive, I would think no. Any help would be appreciated. I am a nervous wreck. Not to mention I understand the spinal tap can kill them!

-- Julie (DkBayTB@aol.com), April 09, 2001.

Hi Julie,

I hope your horse's EPM test comes out OK. I've never heard of a horse dying from a spinal tap. I guess it could happen though. I have a bay TB mare that's off the track. She's a broodmare now, she's not sound in the front and has been extensively pinfired.

I have the Vet coming out on Thursday to check our older gelding for Cushing's Disease.

Stacy Rohan in Windsor, NY

-- Stacy Rohan (KincoraFarm@aol.com), April 09, 2001.

The horse I took care of with the disease was fine one day and not the next. It depends on age I think, a real young and older horse have the most problems. The syptoms are much like a stoke. The horse will be paralize on one side, if it is mild say the front leg, I have seen it in the face though and that was sad. dThe stable destroyed all their hay and started over.

-- Debbie (bwolcott@cwis.net), April 12, 2001.

Here is hoping that your horse doesn't have it!!! I'd be a nervous wreck too waiting on tests like that.

It's not always fatal to horses, so that is something of a silver lining in the cloud, however, they usually do not recover to anything like what they were and have to become pasture pets or companion animals afterward. Unfortunately, this is not something that you can home treat, and if an animal does have it, the best course of action is to find a vet who is well up on the new developements in the disease, because it consists of treatments with a complex course of antibiotics, and from what I have been able to find, it has to be tailored to the individual horse as to what they use when.

We'll all keep our fingers crossed for you.

-- julie f. (rumplefrogskin@excite.com), April 12, 2001.

Hey, I have horses and I have never heard of this happening. Guess what? I am also a licensed wildlife rehabber. I do rehabilitate possums as well as raccoons and I do not have any hesitations releasing my wild ones in the woods near my pastures. Other rehabbers with whom I work have NEVER said anything to this effect. Does anyone realize many diseases one species may carry is NOT transmitable to other animals or humans? Possoms ALSO have a lower body temperature therefore MOST diseases DO NOT survive in their systems. Look people, particularly those of you who like to kill everything that doesn't fit into your very closed and unfortunately small world, we are exposed everyday to roundworm and you can get it. It is carried by raccoons in their feces. It is a natural part of raccoons, but it can wreck havoc on a human nervous system and cause blindness. It can kill children. Most of the time we pass it harmlessly though our systems, but every now and then it gets lost and causes irreversable damage. Does this mean you should quit going outside? Some of you should probably stay inside and away from other people 24/7. I suggest you wild animal killers find another solution to your problem. Unless of course, you are killing these animals for food. There are MANY non-lethal ways to rid wild possoms and raccoons. Use your head and look it up!!

-- Jodi (rjshelton@rush.cnz.com), July 24, 2001.

Can anyone tell me a good way to kill oppossums? I have tried rat poison- but it doesn't work.

-- Teresa (teresamw99@yahoo.com), July 24, 2001.

12ga shotgun with 00 buckshot.

-- April (atobias@yahoo.com), July 24, 2001.

This is for Jodi:

While I agree with you that killing animals is not the first (or even second or third) best solution, just because you have not heard of EPM being passed by oppossum does not mean it isn't true. Here is one source you can check: http://ourworld.compuserve.com/homepages/drfenger/

Please note that their advice on controlling oppossum includes alternatives to the "blast'em to smithereens" method. Good stable practices go a long way to making a barn uninteresting for possums!

A search on the phrase Equine Protozoal Myeloencephalitis will turn up many other sources implicating oppossum as a vector of this disease for horses.

-- Joy F [in So. Wisconsin] (CatFlunky@excite.com), July 24, 2001.

*cough* Silly, silly naked apes. You have not a fraction of a clue. You and your species have existed for a paltry four million years at best, juniour league upstarts.

The Opossums, we (didelphids) have been around in one form or another for one hundred and twenty million years. Sharing the world with dinosaurs and the little tree shrews that eventually begat you. And we will probably be around long after your species is well and done. Which will not be too long at this rate, I imagine.

But while you hold your brief reign, allow me to both thank you, and insult your species. You are blind, myopic creatures of the day. You cower at night, under your artificial illumination. Your knowledge of the night is about as narrow and dim as one of your flashlight's beams. We frolic with reckless abandon, we are in everything, on top of your houses, through your barns and stables, under, above and below, a dozen times at night. You do not know it, but we are there. You may see one of us, once every so often, and when you are not looking (which is 99% of the time) we traipse to and fro about your property.

At the same time, allow me to thank you for your estates, the catfood, and your agriculture. You create sources of water, which is vital to us. And your agriculture draws rodents, innumerable rodents upon which we can feed. Thank you for killing off our natural predators. The wolf and bobcat, whose range you have all but annihilated. Your automobiles and dogs exact a toll that is miniscule by comparison. Yourselves and your lead-throwers (oh no! fear the great white hunter and his mighty (compensating for tiny penis) gun!) do even less. Hell, until you white men came along, we were no further north than Virginia. Now we're ranging into Canada, and up and down the west coast.

Twice a year in the warm climates, once a year in the cooler ones, us opossums mate, and two short weeks later the females birth two dozen or so young, of which no more than 13 will survive. If all is good she can raise about 6 of these, more often 3 or 4. In a little over half a year, these offspring mate.... we can outbreed whatever toll you exact.

As for your horses, and our protozoa. If exposure yielded death even 15% of the time, your prized domesticated perrisodactyls (horses) would all be dead. (carrion for us) They might potentially get it from us.. they might also be drinking it, getting it from rodents, raccoons, birds, the family dog, sheep, goats, the barn cat, mice, deer, rabbits, and mosquitos biting any and all. If it's been isolated in those species or not, it can still be there. feh. Maybe it's a complication of all those exotic drugs you give your horses, and put in the grass and on your crops, flowing into the water.. maybe you're the ones at fault and making them susceptible.

Or maybe it _is_ us, just out of spite.

Surrender your persimmons, placentals.

-- Upspoken Opossum (rohal@squeep.com), September 16, 2001.

I have a friend that just lost her horse to EPM, therefore it is a fact. Many times it is what we do not know that gets us. God bless and keep the barns clear of those nasty little creatures.

-- Jan montgomery (RandJMonty@aol.com), September 20, 2001.

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