Bertie's Story by Denise - March 2010
Thursday 25th April 2002 started off the same as the last 3 weeks, warm, dry and sunny, so when I checked our horses Harry, Bertie, Kate and my friend's 2 year old everything seemed to be fine. They were all turned-out in the same field; Kate and the youngster were grazing while Bertie and Harry were resting in the shade of the hedge. Nothing strange there, so I went to put their beds down. When I had finished I noticed that Bertie was up and grazing but Harry was still lying down. I watched him for the next half an hour, he got up but was not grazing and something told me that all was not well.
My father and I got him in and checked him over. He was very slightly warm between his front legs and seemed very listless. His ears were stone cold, and his quarters felt cold to the touch. His eyes also looked very heavy and hooded, and there was grass stained water trickling down his right nostril. He was not interested in any type of feed or water; all he wanted was for me to cuddle his head in my arms and rub his ears; at this point I had an awful gut feeling that something was seriously wrong…….I suspected a twisted gut. While my father was on the phone to the vet I said my good-byes to Harry, I could tell by the look in his eyes that he was dying and that nothing we did could save him.
My vet David Dugdale knew that it was "Acute Grass Sickness Disease" immediately. Harry's temperature was very low and when David examined him internally his droppings were black and sticky, like tar. He gave Harry a huge pain killer but told my father there was not much hope. My father sat with Harry all night, he had no interest in food or water; he was so very quiet only scrapping his front hoof on the stable floor occasionally. The disease had paralysed his whole stomach, intestines and bowel; there was nothing we could do for him. At 8.30am on 26th April 2002 Harry was put to sleep by the Thurlow Hunt, who were very kind, respectful and professional. I think it was the saddest day of my life. Harry was only 7 years old, he had won every coloured horse class that he entered, was a wonderful driving horse and just loved to jump; I had hours of fun with him and will always remember him calling out and hummering to anyone that entered the yard, he was a real chatterbox who just loved to be with people, the whole yard now seemed so quite and sad.
Bertie was very upset when Harry had gone; he kept calling out and trotting up and down; so when on Saturday 27th April I found Bertie sweated up and shaking I thought it was because he was stressed from losing his best friend. I put a rug on to keep him warm but within an hour it was absolutely soaked through. I changed his rug so he didn't get a chill but the sweating and shaking just got worse and worse. The symptoms were nothing like Harry's so I didn't suspect Grass Sickness Disease. When the vet told me Bertie had got Chronic Grass Sickness my first thought was to have him put to sleep straight away; but David said that as he was still eating and drinking he might just have a chance. The nightmare was just beginning.
Over the next week the sweating and shaking got much worse. His rugs had to be changed every hour; you could ring the water out of them. The weather had turned very wet and cold which didn't help matters as I couldn't turn him out to stretch his legs and the cold made him shake violently. My father and mother had to do night duty, checking him every hour, changing rugs, offering him feed and water……... If it wasn't for their hard work Bertie wouldn't be alive now. By the 4th May the sweating had improved but he was now eating less and his weight had plummeted, he wanted to eat but was just unable too; he had stopped drinking totally which was now the biggest worry. The look in his eyes had also changed, they now had the same heavy hooded look as Harry's; I felt he was giving up on life. The only thing he would eat was very long, wet grass that my father had to cut for him every hour or so. Over the next 10 days he drank nothing at all, he was just living on the moisture from the grass. I tried all sorts of feed but he just had no interest in anything. We tried to get him to drink by offering him water in different buckets, water from tanks in the fields, pond water and water with electrolytes but nothing tempted him. Bertie was now only doing about 5 small hard droppings a day (he normally did 20 a day) and his breathing had become snuffled with hard crusts in his nostrils. I was syringing water into his mouth to help him swallow and freshen his mouth; but I felt I was fighting a losing battle.
On 16th May we called the vet as I had decided it was time to put Bertie to sleep and stop his suffering .My vet said his lungs and heart were still strong and he could hear his gut working slowly. He then persuaded me to give him a little longer "to see what happens"………….when he left I just sat and cried, I felt as if Bertie was being used as a guinea pig and I was letting it happen.
That evening my Mother had the idea of offering Bertie warm, soft water with lots of sugar in it (my parents have bred sheep for years and this has saved many ewes' lives after they have experienced a long and traumatic lambing), as my Mother put the water to Berties lips he realized that it was warm and sweet and to everyone's relief started to drink. He was only allowed a little at a time as we were afraid he would get colic if he drank too much too soon. He was offered water every hour over the next 24 hours; he consumed 6 gallons. Thing's were starting to look a little more promising.
As there was no conventional medicines that could be given to Bertie I decided to try some alternative therapies. I phoned a lady called Julia Walsh who had been recommended to me by a friend whose horse she had treated successfully some time before. Julia and her partner Roger Meacock BVSc MRCVS came out the next morning. Roger used a devise called a Scenar on Bertie's sinuses, neck, back and stomach. Roger explained that the Scenar was developed in Russia where it is commonly used in hospitals with great success as well as with animals. It works on the animal's natural neuropeptides and endorphins (which makes them very relaxed) and then kick starts the animal's natural healing processes. Roger uses the Scenar to treat all manner of illnesses and injuries with great success. Bertie really enjoyed the treatment; he dropped his head down very low and started to go to sleep. Julia uses crystal healing as well as other energy techniques and gave him some tablets containing the vibration of all the crystals that he required to enhance his own healing. Bertie only took the tablets that he needed; the first tablets that he literally dived for were for very deep depression. He seemed to know instinctively which tablets he needed to take as he was just not interested in some but nearly pulled me over to get to others. Bertie's breathing sounded easier the next morning and 3 days later there was a great improvement. Julia had also prepared some liquid and tablet remedies containing all the crystal and other natural remedies that he needed to continue the healing process in between treatments. He had now started to eat hard feed, but it had to be very wet for him to swallow it. He also began to get his cheeky little ways back and he wasn't as insecure as he had been after Harry's death. Over the next few weeks Roger and Julia carried on treating him and his improvement has been astonishing. All the muscle trembling from the toxins in his body has now stopped; he is eating 5 large high protein feeds a day and has just started to eat hay again. His water intake is not quite back to normal as yet but he is drinking more and more every day. Horse's with chronic grass sickness always stand with a "base narrow stance" and have a markedly "tucked up" abdomen which leaves the horse with a very noticeable poverty line; I am glad to say that Bertie is now standing square and has lost the tucked up empty look and has been gaining weight steadily each week.
It took him about a year to get all his weight back on. He also found it very difficult to regulate his own body temperature for a good 3 years. The vet said this was because his nerve endings had been damaged. He would overheat quite quickly when worked so we had to really keep a very close eye on him. One Summers day it reached 100 degrees and I had to keep putting towels soaked in cold water on him to bring his temperature down. It also took a few years for his stamina to build back up and he would tire quickly at first. It was different from a normal unfit horse, but I was worried about asking too much of him so maybe he could have done a little bit more.
We noticed every October when we had the last flush of grass he would be a bit off colour for a few weeks, but then pick up again, but as the years have gone on the symptoms have got worse each winter. The last 2 years he stopped eating totally and had symptoms just like Grass Sickness again. The vet tested him for everything, but could find nothing wrong with him. He was very worried about the way he dropped weight so drastically.
In November 2009 I was again very worried about Bertie as he had lost weight and wasn't interested in life. I was again considering, as winter was approaching, whether it would be kinder to have him put to sleep. There seemed no answer.
On 30th November Linda Johnson came to give Bert healing. After the first healing session Bert started to eat more and seemed generally better in himself and started to gain weight. The second session seemed to lift him out of a deep depression and from that point he has just got better and better. He had 6 healing sessions in all and he is full of life now and gallops round the field... which is something he hasn't done for at least 3 years or more. He used to stand in the field with his head down between his knees looking so unhappy and not at all interested in grazing. He has now got all his interest in life back and all his cheeky ways. I had forgotten how naughty he can be, but it is wonderful to have the old Bert back!
Just to think I was preparing to put him to sleep as I couldn't bear to see him in pain, suffering and wasting away before my eyes.
He is now a picture of health and ready to start work.
Bertie update 8/9/2010
On 3rd June 2010 Bertie celebrated his 13th birthday It was a day I didn't think he would ever see after being told by vets and many experts who care for horses with Grass Sickness Disease that life expectancy is not very long ... maybe Bertie would live to 9 or 10 years of age.
Horses after EGSD tend to suffer from bouts of colic that become more severe and frequent with age until the horse can not cope.
Bertie had been suffering quite badly 2 years ago when Linda started giving him healing. He had lost lots of weight and had no interest in food.
I am glad to say that Bertie hasn't had a colic attack since and that he eats everything offered to him now.
I am very grateful for the extra years I have had with my special boy who now is very healthy and happy.
Grass sickness occurs regardless of colour, type, breed, financial status of the owner or their geographical location, and it is a particularly distressing disease for any owner to witness. The disease is also far more common than most people realise; it is still not known what causes it or how to cure it, so much more research needs to be done but funding is very limited. I have written Harry and Bertie's story to try and make people aware of this awful disease. So many people still believe that Grass sickness is the same thing as Laminitis; from my own research I believe that only around 2% of horses that contract the disease make a full recovery, so I feel very blessed that Bertie is alive and looking better each day. I just hope that none of your readers will ever have to experience Grass sickness for themselves.
Bertie update 4.3.2011
Bertie continues to enjoy life and has no health problems , even going through the winter with no weight loss.
Bertie update 23.7.2011
From Denise ... " everyone keeps saying that Bert is looking better than he has done for years - and he truly does ! "
Bertie update 16.3.2015
Bertie continues to flourish and looks the best he ever has.
If you need more information please contact:-
Roger Meacock BVSc MRCVS:-Mobile: 07866 687296
Julia Walsh: - Mobile 07751 960272
The Equine Grass Sickness Fund,
Pentlands Science Park,
Midlothian. Tel: 0131 445 6257. Website www.grasssickness.org.uk
Linda Johnson www.animalhealer.co.uk