Although our horses have had their periods of ups and downs ever since we bought them from the bush, I have always considered us to be so lucky for never having had any serious diseases. As long as they eat well and act according to their individual characters, all is well.


Some two weeks ago, we noticed that Sahara had pretty much lost her appetite, which didn’t fit with her foaling schedule at all. She quickly dropped weight, but as she was still eating and was very eager to stretch her legs in the bush, we did not worry about it so much. Until one day, I saw a dark-coloured pool of urine that was so gluey it didn’t sink through the sand. We immediately called the vet.


At this point, we did not know which horse the gluey dark-coloured substance belonged to, but we suspected Sahara because of her recent lack of appetite.


Salisu came over and headed back to the lab with a blood sample, which came back positive for EP: Equine Piroplasmosis. At this point, all I knew about piroplasmosis was that it was the same disease that had killed Aslan earlier this year, but thankfully, there is a lot of information accessible on the Internet these days, even from Niger.

Equine Piroplasmosis

…This disease is a disease of Equidae (horses, donkeys, mules, and zebras), and is caused by two parasitic organisms, Babesia equi and Babesia caballi. Although, Equine Piroplasmosis is primarily transmitted to horses by ticks, this bloodborne disease has been spread mechanically from animal to animal by contaminated needles.

…Cases of Equine Piroplasmosis can be mild or acute, depending on the virulence of the parasite. Acutely affected equine can have fever, anemia, jaundiced mucous membranes, swollen abdomens, and labored breathing. Equine Piroplasmosis can also cause equine to have roughened hair coats, constipation, and colic. In its milder form, Equine Piroplasmosis causes equine to appear weak and show lack of appetite.

…Equine Piroplasmosis is present in South and Center America, the Caribbean (including Puerto Rico), Africa, the Middle East, and Eastern and Southern Europe. Only the United States, Canada, Australia, Japan, England and Ireland are not considered to be endemic areas.

Source: USDA – Animal Health – Equine Piroplasmosis


In simple words, piroplasmosis is best described as a malaria-like parasite disease, and could be one of the reasons why horses in this part of the world rarely pass the age of ten. As soon as we got the news about Sahara having EP, we immediately had Arwen tested as well. Salisu came back even more concerned than he came to tell us about Sahara. “I don’t understand how she can even stand on her two feet,” he said, referring to Arwen. “Every single of her red blood cells are under attack!” Madugu, our second vet who came back from Niamey the following day, attributed Arwen’s overall general state to the good feed. According to Nigerien standards, our horses eat like queens and also get a daily supplement of vitamine B and E, as well as MSM from Sweden.

As it turns out, EP can be either chronic or acute, and seeing it is a tick-born disease, we now speculate on whether Arwen can have had Equine Piroplasmosis ever since coming in from the bush in 2005. It would explain her bouts of bad temper – which she up until this week have never directed towards myself or Anette (her favourite people!) – as one of the symptoms of EP is aggressiveness. It could also explain why – when we thought she was in foal in 2006  and she wasn’t – she had periods of being very tired, only to come around after a few days or a couple of weeks. Once we started to learn more about the disease, which is endemic in this area (and there are no vaccines), all the things that have puzzled us about Arwen these past few years seemed to fall in place. Just like most people in Niger have a sort of chronic malaria that their body normally knows how to deal with (but sometimes can’t, and the person dies), animals suffer from piroplasmosis, which comes and goes depending on the general state of the animal and outside stress.


With one mare nursing and the other one in foal, I was quick to read up on the prognosis of Isolde and a potential newcomer. The vets told me there was no point in having Isolde tested until the age of six months (she is two months old right now) and the literature I found gives them right. Any test at this point will give a positive result, as the foal has the same antibodies as the mother, and one will have wait four to five months after weaning in order to know for sure. Although Isolde could be a carrier, I do not thin she has EP. She is doing fabulously and has not had a single day which has caused us any concern. She is growing like a weed, nursing from her mother and eating solid foods next to Sahara, and LOVES to gallop in the bush.


Treatment began the following day, and having read up so much on the acute form of Equine Piroplasmosis, I was fairly worried that the horses wouldn’t survive the drug.


Thankfully, treating horses is easier than treating dogs, and they stood their grounds like mature ladies taking their shots (much unlike young Sheba who was howling in protest!).


Both Madugu and Salisu reassured me that EP is common in Africa and that I need not worry about the treatment.


But you always do, don’t you? As a pet owner, you are responsible for making the best choices for your animals and hence you are responsible for when things go wrong. Sometimes treatment may cause more damage than the disease itself, and you never know beforehand, and the risk of treatment (or no treatment) is always a choice that has to be made.


In this case however, the choice was simple. Blood in the urine is a very bad sign, and we did not want to waste any time letting the horses battle out this disease by themselves.


As things are standing now, the girls have just finished their treatment and are taking it extra easy during the coming days. In a week or so, the vets will have their blood tested again, and I am hoping for good news!


After that, we intend to test our horses regularly for EP, as it can be spread by flies and mosquitoes as well (in other words, parasites that we cannot control).


We will also look into the option of using neem oil as a natural insect repellent even though Sahara goes nuts every time I want to spray something on her.


I hope that if the treatment is successful, Arwen will be a less charged horse and will regain all her muscles that she lost during the last months of carrying Isolde. Regardless of how much we have increased her feed, she still has her ribs showing, and I don’t know if that is due to EP or due to Isolde, who is a frequent visiter at the general Ishtar’s Ark Horse Milk Station.


As for Isolde, she is growing like a weed and is currently pretending to be the most beautiful cross between a horse and a camel that the world have ever seen. More pictures on our camel-filly hope to make it to the blog soon!

Links that I found very useful when looking for EP information on the web:

Equine Piroplasmosis – Learn to Spot the Signs

Equine Piroplasmosis Background

Piroplasmosis in Florida