How much is too much of a “good” thing?

Speculation on the death of the polo ponies in Wellington today has centered on the selenium content in the “supplement” given to the ponies.

The Palm Beach Post reports in the article, “High selenium in drug mix could be to blame in death of 21 polo ponies“:

Citing anonymous sources, the Argentine newspaper La Nacion reported today that the horses’ lab-made supplements included 5 milligrams per milliliter of sodium selenite instead of the prescribed 0.5 milligrams.

If this is indeed the cause, it begs the question, why would you give your horse a supplement where a mere 10x increase in the concentration of an ingredient might kill it?

Many of us (myself included) give supplements to our horses. Most of them have dubious and mostly anecdotal claims of actually improving a horse’s condition or some how enhancing its performance. Yet we feed the supplements hoping that the magic ingredient will make a difference. Many supplements and treatments are used “off label” , often at the advice of our vets. Yet the tragic deaths of these horses show that supplementation can have more serious consequences.

Certainly it’s given me pause.

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Wellington polo ponies injected with supplement

The Palm Beach Post reported today that the polo ponies that died in Wellington earlier in the week had all received an injection of the vitamin supplement Biodyl, a drug that is not approved in the U.S., and that team members believe a tainted dose caused their deaths.

Juan Martin Nero, captain of the Lechuza Caracas polo team, told the La Nacion newspaper of Buenos Aires that all of the horses had received Biodyl injections before the game.

“We don’t have any doubts about the origin of the problem,” Nero said. “There were five horses that weren’t given the vitamin and they are the only ones that are fine.”

Biodyl, a French-made supplement, is banned by the federal Food and Drug Administration and its sale or use in the United States is illegal, an FDA spokeswoman said.

If horses were injected with the supplement, “that would be illegal use of an unapproved drug,” FDA spokeswoman Siobhan DeLancey said.

Bioldyl is a French-made supplement that contains Vitamin B-12, selenium, potassium asparate and magnesium asparate. Last year, a shipment imported into the United States was rejected by FDA officials because it was deemed “a new animal drug which is unsafe,” FDA records show.

La Nacion reported that its use is not prohibited in Argentina, where the Venezuelan-owned team’s veterinarian and players are from.

This revelation still raises many questions. For one, Biodyl is routinely used in Europe as a vitamin/mineral supplement. The drug is intended to help horses recover more quickly from muscle fatigue. Unless the dosages were wrong or the product were tainted, it would be unlikely to cause problems. However, selenium administered in large doses can be toxic.

The Merck Veterinary Manual states:

Clinical signs are different from those of chronic selenosis and are characterized by abnormal behavior, respiratory difficulty, gastrointestinal upset, and sudden death. Abnormal posture and depression, anorexia, unsteady gait, diarrhea, colic, increased pulse and respiration rates, frothy nasal discharge, moist rales, and cyanosis may be noted.

Death usually follows within a few hours of consumption or injection. The major lesions are lung edema and congestion, and necrosis of multiple organs, including lung, liver, and kidney.

If the cause was the supplement, was it tainted? Or was the drug compounded in the US incorrectly rather than ordered from France? The initial necropsy reports on 8 of the horses revealed “nothing significant.

So, I guess we’ll need to wait for more detailed toxicology reports and hope to find out a definitive answer.

Polo Pony Tragedy in Wellington

By now just about everyone has read about the 21 polo ponies that died in Wellington, Fla. (some reports now have the death toll at 23).

The ponies, all members of the Lechuza Caracaus polo team, had been scheduled to play in a match on Sunday at the U.S. Open Polo Championship, a 105-year-old tournament that bills itself as the oldest such event in the United States, and which is considered to be the most prestigious in the nation. The remaining ponies on the Lechuza Caracaus team, those scheduled not to play, so far are still fine.

According to reports, the horses began to show signs of illness — breathing heavily and stumbling — at their stable, before they were brought to the polo club. Once they arrived, the horses appeared disoriented and dizzy, their lungs filled will fluid and they succumbed to cardiac arrest.Vets suspect a reaction to a toxin although it is unclear how they were exposed. Feed, bedding and supplements will be examined. Since there are no drug restrictions for polo ponies in the US (in Europe, anabolic steroid use is banned) veterinarians performing necropsies will also look for signs of  drugs — tainted or otherwise. To have so many horses from one team die so suddenly and virtually simultaneously while the remaining team horses remain healthy, makes it seem more likely that these horses might have been injected with a toxin. Results from the necropsies are expected by the end of the week.

Having watched my own horse go down with an undiagnosed illness last year I can’t imagine the heartbreak of seeing a team of polo ponies collapse and die. It must have been a heartbreaking scene.