FDA issues warning after tainted alfalfa cubes kill 45 horses, sicken 100 more

With 100 horses developing neurological illnesses and 45 dying or being euthanized, the Food and Drug Administration has issued a warning to horse owners not to feed their equine “Top of the Rockies” brand alfalfa cubes.

The cubes are sold in Missouri, Oklahoma, Illinois, Arkansas and Kansas, and Manzanola Foods also distributed the product to stores in Texas, New Mexico, Colorado and Louisiana. 

According to the FDA warning, the cubes can cause botulism, a fatal paralytic neurological occurrence. Botulism-causing bacteria is usually found in the carcasses of decaying animals. The cubes reportedly contain fur and animal tissues that could have been accidentally ground up during the alfalfa harvest season. 

Botulism typically occurs when neurotoxic bacteria found in soils, sediments and plant matter enter the intestinal tract of animals. Toxins created by the bacteria affect nerve function. Symptoms to watch for include difficulty breathing, abdominal distension, constipation, struggle to vocalize or swallow, dizziness and muscle weakness. 

The Heartlander reached out to Forget-Me-Not Horse Rescue and Sanctuary in Linn Creek for details about intestinal issues in equine. 

Founder Connie Hendrix-Jones says horses cannot regurgitate as humans do. If an equine is sick to its stomach, the food may try to force its way up and out of the nose, causing the horse to choke. Although veterinarians can often dislodge food stuck during the digestion process, the most simple stomach bug can be fatal for a horse. If the food becomes lodged in the intestinal tract, an emergency surgery can cost upward of $10,000.

Equine owners can generally tell when their horses are not feeling well. A sick horse will often display accelerated breathing patterns, pushing on its stomach, laying down for longer periods of time and sometimes becoming irritable. 

Top of the Rockies alfalfa cubes are packaged in white and tan plastic bags with green labels. Date codes can be found on the front of the packaging. Possible contaminated lots include those with the dates 111222, 111322, 111422, 111522 and 111622.

The FDA is advising customers to throw the alfalfa cubes away in secure containers. Cube handlers also have been warned to wear gloves and a mask while touching the product. Customers also are being told to apply a bleach solution to feed bins that may have contained the cubes. 

If your equine is displaying symptoms of botulism, contact a veterinarian immediately.


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