New Mexico's Pet Resource WINTER 2004


Kazanís Journey Back: A First-Hand Account of West Nile Virus

Text and photos by Deborah Schildkraut, Ph.D.

Suzi and Kazan share a hug

August 1, 2003: In New Mexico in August, a wise person exercises before or after the unbearable midday heat. In the early evening of August 1, Suzi and her handsome chestnut gelding Kazan accompanied her husband, Kevin, for a run along the Galisteo River, dry for months from the severe drought. Suzi rode Kazan while Kevin jogged beside them. They did three miles at an easy pace before returning home.

Kazan is a 15-year-old Arab-Saddlebred cross, a breed known as a National Show Horse. He had belonged to a woman who did not have the time to exercise him. Suzi had offered to help with his care, and eventually the woman gave him to Suzi. Heís been with her for four years.

Returning to the barn that day, Kazan was greeted by the neighing of his stable mate, Marya, a 9 year old thoroughbred mare. Suzi unsaddled Kazan, and put the tack away.

Two days later, Kazan started showing signs of colic, a digestive tract disorder caused by impacted matter in the bowels. The condition is swift and severe, and can quickly cause death. For two days and three nights Suzi treated Kazanís symptoms. By the third morning, Kazan seemed to be getting better.

August 15: Suziís family from back East arrived for a visit. Her nephews were treated to a ride on Kazan. Suzi held the reins and walked the boys, one at a time. Kazan seemed tired and slower than normal. Suzi was concerned that he hadnít completely gotten his strength back from the episode of colic, and called off the ride. The boys were promised another ride the next day.

The next morning, Suzi tried to saddle Kazan. This time he nearly collapsed. Suzi immediately called the vet. The vet said that two cases of West Nile Virus (WNV) had just been reported up river, and Suzi feared that Kazan would be case number three. While waiting for the vet, Suzi treated Kazan with banamine, an anti-inflammatory and pain reliever.

The banamine seemed to make Kazan feel better. When the vet arrived, he treated Kazan with DMSO (dimethylsulfoxide) and told Suzi to give another dose of banamine in 18-24 hours. The vet took a blood sample to be sent for WNV testing.

On Sunday morning, Kazan could take only one or two trembling steps, barely able to move out of the blazing sun. He seemed about to collapse at any moment. During the coolness of the night, he fared a little better, and Suzi encouraged him to eat and drink. Suzi decided to keep Kazan in a shaded area, which proved extremely helpful. Over the next three days, Kazan seemed to gradually improve. Suzi herself had not been feeling well, and attributed this to the worry and demands of caring for Kazan.

Kazan's leg injuries

August 21: On Thursday, five days after Kazan became symptomatic with WNV, the situation took a drastic turn for the worse. Suzi and Kevin woke to find themselves extremely ill, and were so weak they could do little but sleep most of the day. They both felt sure they were fighting the virus themselves. Kevin, a nurse at a local hospital, was familiar with the symptoms in humans. Ironically, the vet called that afternoon to confirm that Kazanís blood tested positive for West Nile Virus.

Dragging herself out of bed Friday morning, Suzi was horrified to see Kazan had worsened. He was having trouble with his hind end. Kazan fell twice, but was able to get back up. He banged up his legs, and had cuts on his tail, right hip and side, and both hocks. His back legs kept getting crossed and tangled. He swayed and staggered as if partially paralyzed. Suzi called the vet. He came and did what he could for Kazan but there was not much progress through the day. Kazanís energy level improved but he was losing control of his back end.

Over the next two weeks, Kazan, Suzi and Kevin fought against the ravages of his illness. Kazan fell at least 22 times. Despite being confined to a shaded area padded with several inches of loose hay, his hocks were cut and bloody. Suzi had to help him up several times when he was not able to do it on his own - no easy feat for someone who was as stressed and drawn of energy as Suzi.

August 30 - September 30: A month after that fateful ride in the river, Kazan had his first day without a fall. Suzi and Kevin had been taking turns keeping watch over Kazan, and this was definitely a cause for celebration. They began to return to their normal routines and jobs. The joy was premature. Kazan continued to have ups and downs on a daily basis. Throughout September, he fell numerous times, some falls causing nasty injuries.

October 1-15: During the first two weeks of October, Kazan showed gradual improvement, enough so that Suzi stopped counting steps taken per day. Kazan was able to trot and even canter a bit, but could only walk a few steps. Coordination and control were still issues. He had trouble going uphill; stopping on the way down was difficult. But he tried, and seemed eager for his own recovery. Suzi often saw him exercise himself, stretching and moving his unstable rear legs.

Gait problems caused by WNV

October 15-31: By the end of October, Kazan was walking. Suzi and Kevin felt they were finally over the illness themselves. As this issue of PETroglyphs goes to press, Kazan still does not have total control over his hind end. He has more energy than stamina. He falls about once a week. He is improving slowly and steadily. The risk of damage from tripping or falling has decreased. His leg wounds are healing.

Suzi and Kevin do not recall being bitten by any mosquitoes during their ride along the river, but it is a likely place. The incubation period runs about 5-15 days after being bitten by a WNV carrying mosquito. Both Suzi and Kevin are young and healthy, proving that not just the elderly and infirm can be victims of this illness. Neither Kazan nor his stable mate Marya had been vaccinated for WNV. Marya, who did not go on the river ride, did not come down with the virus. She was vaccinated after Kazan was diagnosed. She remains healthy. Ten other horses live in the immediate area. All had been vaccinated at the beginning of the summer, and none contracted the disease.

Suzi and Kazan have a special bond, made even stronger by their battle together to beat WNV. Suzi is hopeful for Kazanís full recovery, and that he will be better than ever. She is a massage therapist and continues to care for Kazan with daily bodywork, exercise, and supplements. Fooled by the drought, Suzi regrets not having her horses vaccinated. The cost of the vaccination is a small price to pay to avoid the physical and emotional toll taken by the disease. As she looks at her beautiful boy grazing at a distance on the top of a hill, Kazan suddenly kicks up the dust and dashes toward her. The stop is a little rough, and he almost tumbles. But he catches himself, and stops just short of her. Suzi sees in his behavior that he is happy to be alive and to have his body back. She feels the same way.

A healthier Kazan kicks up the dust

NOTE: Kazanís story is part one of a two-part story on West Nile virus. In the Spring 2004 issue of PETroglyphs, a veterinarian weighs in on the best way to prevent the disease.

Deborah Schildkraut, Ph.D. is an animal behaviorist and educator who worked at the Boston Zoos for 15 years. She lives in Cerrillos with her husband, five rescued dogs (three greyhounds, two terriers) and three horses.

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