Dorothea, Dexter and Tick Fever
Dorothea, Dexter and Tick Fever
Since the start of the rescue centre we have found and witnessed many horrific cases; many of these animals would certainly not have survived without the dedication and expertise of Dorothea Dudli von Dewitz, our brilliant equine vet.
We first met Dorothea in the early days of her becoming a fully fledged vet when we just had our own two horses, Cordobesa and Musico. It actually takes 5,5 years to become a general vet and a further 2 years to become an equine vet, because horses are much more complicated. This incredible young woman took herself through 7.5 years of university because she had a passion for horses; having been fortunate enough to be around horses as a child when she grew up she realized she wanted to learn everything she could about how to care for them, treat their illnesses and make them better. Dorothea is German but moved from Switzerland to Spain when she was about three years old, she now is 31 and has had her own 24/7 mobile veterinary practice since 2006. Many is the time when we called her out in the early hours of the morning where she stayed with us during difficult births, colic's and other crisis. Without her support many of our residents would not have survived.
This week we were contacted by a lady called Tina, she was very worried because she has a sick horse and her vet told her it could be Tick fever. She has had horses in Spain for many years but has never heard about this disease before and asked us for information. This is Dorothea's reply:
Equine Piroplasmosis, also called "tick fever" is a disease that affects horses, mules and donkeys and is caused by two parasitic organisms, Theileria equi and Babesia caballi. Although primarily transmitted to horses by ticks, this disease has been spread mechanically from animal to animal by contaminated needles.
Inside the animal, the parasite infects the red blood cells. This has two main consequences:
- The immune system of the horse tries to fight infection by breaking the red blood cells to get access to the parasite and eliminate it
- The parasite multiplies inside the cell, and once there are too many of them in an infected cell, they break it up to search for a new one.
The result is massive death of red blood cells that conduces to anemia and lots of dead cells residues in the blood stream. This is the main reason for the clinical signs that affected animals show.
An infected horse can take 7 to 22 days to show signs of the disease.
The clinical signs in this area are very variable, and range from mild to severe. Mild forms of the disease cause weakness and lack of appetite. More acute cases show fever, anemia, jaundice, a swollen abdomen or legs, and labored breathing. Other signs of EP include central nervous system disturbances, roughened-hair coats, constipation, colic, and hemoglobinuria—a condition which gives urine a red color. In some cases, death may occur. Some infected horses, however, may show few or no symptoms.
After the acute phase of infection the horses may continue to carry the parasites for long periods of time. These horses are potential sources of infection to other horses through ticks or mechanical transfer by biting ticks, needles, or surgical instruments. Also they can have periodic recurrence of clinical signs associated with immunological stress or develop a chronic form with unspecific signs like weight loss, reduced appetite and weakness.
Considering that it is not caused by a bacteria nor a virus, the treatment for it consists in a highly toxic medication with many side effects depending on the dosage. The more dangerous variety is the one caused by T. Equi, and this form needs double dosage of medication to be controlled. The medication is lethal for donkeys at this dosage and can seriously affect mules. Also, the medication does not eliminate the parasite completely; it only helps the body to get the infection under control faster. This means that even with treatment, many animals may remain as carriers of the disease, with all the consequences mentioned earlier.
Prevention of the disease means reducing the possibility of a tick bite. The main sources for ticks are abundant plant growth in the surroundings where they like to hide and other animals infected by them, like sheep and dogs. This means that if you have dogs in your yard, it is crucial to keep them properly treated against external parasites, because if not, apart from the health problem they are exposed to, you are putting at risk the health of your horse.
Dexter our wonderful Mule who still resides happily here with us at the rescue centre had tick fever; he was rescued by 3 Spanish brothers who found him wandering on the Almoradi roundabout. The police could not help so the brothers walked him all the way to Catral and put him on their fenced building plot where he simply laid down and would not get up. So after 24 hours they realized that they had what they thought was a very large sick horse on their hands and thus a very big problem.
They then came to the rescue centre and explained, we went with them to assess the horse which we then realized was in fact a huge mule. We managed to get him back up on his feet and back to the rescue centre where Dorothea took a blood test to check for Equine aids and tick fever. Luckily it was not equine aids as by law he would then need to be put to sleep as this is highly contagious and is passed on by the horse fly from equine to equine. It was however tick fever. As Dorothea explains above he had a 50%/50% chance to survive as he is half horse and half donkey.
Dexter has had 3 treatments, the first one made him ill for half a day, the second one did not affect him at all and the third one stopped his breathing and he collapsed. We all thought we had lost him as we desperately tried to get him up and get him to breathe again. We had an antidote to counteract the symptoms which Dorothea gave us in case this should happen and thanks to this antidote we were able to get him back in time while Dorothea was rushing back to rescue centre as she initially waited for an hour to see if he reacted in any way which he didn't appear to.
Thankfully the three treatments were enough to control the parasites and in the year he has been with us he has gained weight and looks as normal as he is ever going to look. He is the strangest looking Mule you are ever likely to see and we all love our gentle giant to bits, he is a huge personality here at the centre and loves the open days where he can personally greet everyone on the horse tour.
If you would like to meet Dexter and his other friends please visit the centre on Sundays 1-4pm
To Quote Sir Winston Churchill (1874 – 1965): There is something about the outside of a horse that is good for the inside of a man.
Article Featured in Costa Blanca News January 2013