The owner of a pony who was given about a 1% chance of surviving after she contracted tetanus said it was “like winning the lottery” to learn she would pull through.
Katy Payne’s daughter Bonnie was given six-year-old 14.1hh Connemara Star for Christmas. Within two weeks, on the day the family returned from holiday, they saw something was wrong.
“My daughter said her tail looked funny and I said that’s just because she hadn’t seen her for a while,” Katy told H&H.
“But then we tried to give her a carrot and she wasn’t interested, which is unusual. But she must have had a bit because then she started to choke on it.”
Katy called her vet to the apparent case of choke, caused by the first visible signs of the tetanus bacteria’s effects, but the diagnosis was not made immediately.
“She hadn’t been really poorly; she’d had her breakfast that day and the people at the yard are so good, they’d have realised,” Katy said. “It must have come on really quickly.
“The lockjaw was the first symptom and the yard owner suspected what it was and said: ‘Please god it’s not tetanus’. I’m not horsey but everyone else’s reaction was scary.”
When tetanus was diagnosed, one of Katy’s attending vets gave Star a one in 100 chance of survival.
“They said ‘it’s going to be bad and she’ll go downhill quickly’,” Katy said.
“We knew if we could get to the end of that week, she’d be ok, and we had to try because my little girl was heartbroken.
“Star was in hospital having lots of fluids and antibiotics, she couldn’t eat; she looked horrendous. I was willing the end of the week to come and every day that went by was good.”
Eventually, the family was told Star was out of the woods, although with a long convalescence ahead.
“It was like winning the lottery,” Katy said. “Bonnie hadn’t slept for a week and although I’m not horsey, I’d fallen in love with Star too; we’re changing her name, from Wishing Star to Lucky Star.
“She’s almost back to normal now; Bonnie’s been able to ride her this week – and now she’s vaccinated for everything you can possibly think of.”
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Katy’s vet Ricky Farr, of Hertfordshire-based equine practice Farr & Pursey, told H&H that having seen one case of tetanus in 13 years, Star was one of two he had treated in a fortnight.
And although Star survived, the other horse, who was found collapsed, had to be put down six hours later.
“You don’t see tetanus that often but when you do see it, it’s dramatic, and the survival rate is about 35%,” Mr Farr said, urging owners to ensure their horses are vaccinated.
“I don’t think people realise. In humans, they say ‘five for life’, so you have five jabs and you’re protected but it’s not like that for horses, who are eating from the ground, out in the mud – they’re at a significantly higher risk.
“You don’t see it often, and with people trying to save money, vaccines are often the first things to go. But if it’s a case of a £30 vaccine or a £3,000 bill – or potentially losing your horse – it’s a no-brainer.”
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