When we see livestock — including horses — crowded on a tiny patch of high ground surrounded by floodwater, we naturally think of how to get food to them. What’s rarely recognised is that the water itself can be dangerous and jeopardise horses’ survival.

Vets from Louisiana State Vet School in the US recently reported on the potentially fatal effects of floodwater.

They used three horses caught up in Hurricane Isaac in 2012 to illustrate how serious complications can become. All three had received nasty injuries in the storm, including wounds to the limbs or feet. They had also been swept up in the floods and were rescued from filthy water after the hurricane had passed.

The horses received intensive care including epidural pain-relief catheters and continuous intranasal oxygen therapy. Their condition was constantly monitored and every appropriate medicine and treatment was administered.

Massive media attention turned them into celebrities. They were called the “hurricane horses”, which placed even greater pressure on the vet team to try to save them. Far more money and effort was spent than might have been the case with other patients.

Yet despite all this, none of the three horses survived. Their limb and hoof wounds proved intractable. All developed severe pneumonia or pleuritis, while two went down with laminitis. One developed a systemic fungal infection never before recorded in horses.

The reason for the overwhelming illness appeared to have been the contaminated water that had washed over them. They had breathed it in, swallowed it and it had soaked into every wound and graze.

It seems that after a flood, you may get horses out of dirty water — but getting the dirty water out of the horses may prove impossible.

Ref: H&H 23 April 2014