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THE DISEASE KNOWN AS “STAGGERS” AMONG HORSES IN
VIRGINIA AND NORTH CAROLINA.
Hon. NORMAN J. COLMAN,
Commissioner of Agriculture. SIR: In accordance with your directions I visited the eastern part of this State and a portion of the State of North Carolina, to investigate the nature and cause of the disease called “blind staggers, which proved fatal to so many horses during the past summer. I arrived in Suffolk, Nansemond County, Va., on the 2d of November, and upon inquiry I was informed that there had not been a case of “staggers” in that locality for at least six weeks, but it had prevailed in an extremely fatal form to an alarming extent during the summer and early fall. I learned that Dr. John T. Kilby had lost several horses, therefore I called upon him to get what information I could concerning the disease. Dr. Kilby was born in the town of Suffolk, and is a practicing physician of many years' experience. He said:
I have owned horses for over forty years; remember an outbreak of this disease in 1867; many horses died that year; I lost 2 horses myself. I think it is safe to say that over 100 horses died within a radius of 25 miles. There was another outbreak in 1876 or 1877, but it was not so fatal. I never knew it to be as fatal as this year. I am certain that over 200 horses have died within a radius of 25 miles. I lost 4 horses this year, 2 of which died in Suffolk, and the others died in the country. Of course there are isolated cases of it every year, but a very rainy season is always followed by a general outbreak of the disease. I have no idea of the cause; believe it to be due to some epidemic influence. It is rapidly fatal. Some animals die within six hours after first symptoms; others last as long as four days. I gave large doses of aloes, calomel, tartar emetic, and jalap, followed by half-pound doses of epsom salts and enemas, but could get no action from the bowels. The symptoms of the 2 that died here were somewhat different. The mare when first attacked became blind. She would stagger about, or press her head against any object, or lean her body against the stall or house. In the case of the colt, his hind parts would sway from side to side; would fall and could not arise without assistance; lost control of his hind parts, but had good use of his front legs until he got very weak. He fell three days after he showed the first symptoms, and was conscious up to within an hour of death; no signs of coma until an hour before he died. I was present when a man held a postmortem examination of the colt. He took out the brain, and it seemed to be all right, although I must say that I did not examine its structure-only looked at it superficially; did not examine the spinal cord. The left lung was very much congested. I fed corn, oats, bran, hay, and corn-fodder. I have no feed that was here during the prevalence of the disease. My hay was moldy. All my feed was raised in the vicinity, except the bran.
In the symptoms given by Dr. Kilby it will be seen that in the case of his mare the cerebral disturbance predominated, whilst in the case of the colt, from the symptoms furnished one would suppose the lesions almost entirely confined to the spinal cord. This being the case, it is not surprising that he saw nothing materially wrong with the brain, but I am certain that if the spinal cord had been properly examined sufficient evidence would have been discovered to H. Mis. 156-14
satisfactorily account for the weakness of the hind parts and the inability to rise. I am equally certain that a carefully conducted postmortem examination of the brain would have discovered grave lesions in the case of the mare. The doctor informed me, after inquiry had been made, that the colt was on the left side when he died. This fact easily accounts for the left lung being more congested than the right. It was a hypostatic congestion. Dr. Kilby informed me that the gentleman who examined his colt was a citizen of Suffolk, a Mr. William M. Atkinson, whom I called upon immediately and obtained the following information: Mr. Atkinson keeps a boarding, livery, and training stable. He kept in his stable during the summer an average of 8 horses; had no case of the disease ; did not use any feed raised in the vicinity, except some fodder a year old. When the disease first appeared in the neighborhood, he commenced to feed hot and cold mashes and a little hay; says he held post-mortem examinations on 11 horses that died of the disease and found the brain all right in every case. I asked him if he understood the anatomy of the brain. He said he did not, but the brains he examined looked like a hog's brain, and he thought they were all right. He said he found the lungs black in every horse, and consequently he concluded that the animals died of a lung disease. (I found å great many people who were of the opinion that the disease was an affection of the lungs, but of course they did not recognize the fact that congestion of the lungs is an ordinary complication of cerebral affections.) Mr. Atkinson says that the disease was almost entirely confined to the horses kept on the low lands; he said 4 horses were sent to him from the low country, where the disease was prevailing; he fed them on mashes and they were not affected. He stated that the horses that died in Suffolk were owned respectively by a doctor and a liveryman, and they could have contracted the disease from being fed in the swampy country. He said he did not know of a horse to die where the feed was good. I will give the following statement in his own words, which is significant :
Walter Wills wrote to me what to do as a preventive, and I advised him to feed mashes. He lost none. He owns 6 horses, and lives in a district on the river where other farmers lost horses.
He also stated that Dr. Kilby sent a colt from Suffolk to Mr. Putnam's, where it died, and Mr. Putnam lost 2 of his own. There is much valuable information contained in the statement of Mr. Atkinson, but his post-mortem examinations were worse than useless, and I found this to be the case generally, because the persons who held the examinations were incompetent, owing entirely to their ignorance of pathology.
I next visited Mr. George W. Nurney, liveryman, Suffolk, who said :
I kept about 30 horses in my stable during the prevalence of the disease; had no sickness in my stable. All my feed was from the West, except about 100 bushels of oats. I know this disease exists in this vicinity more or less every summer, but never to the extent of this year. I lost 1 horse from it in 1876.
Mr. R. W. Nelms, liveryman, Suffolk, said : I lost 3 horses, only 1 of which died in Suffolk. One fell dead on the road while in harness; could not say that he had the “staggers,” but supposed he had. The one that died in Suffolk became dull and stiff, walked “stradaling” to one side, ate to the last; could turn the head to one side only; first noticed something wrong about 12 o'clock; horse died same night. My horses grazed, and were fed feed raised in this section and also feed from the West. Some of my hay was undoubtedly damaged. My animals were fed everywhere in the surrounding country.
Mr. H. P. Pinner, who is the proprietor of a livery and sale stable in Suffolk, I found to be a man who had given this subject much intelligent study. His statement is worthy of careful thought, and is given as follows:
I averaged 11 horses in my stable during the summer; had no cases of the disease. I fed Western hay, old corn, and old oats; I used no feed raised this year. I think the disease was an affection of the brain. A horse affected will stagger and breathe very heavy when down, and apparently die from suffocation while in spasms. I remember the outbreak of 1876, and then as now no man lost a horse who had good feed raised the previous year. I had a farm then on the banks of the Nansemond, and had a barn full of feed saved from 1875, which I fed to my horses. I did not have a sick one. I sold hay that I raised in 1876, which was very inferior. Persons who fed it lost horses. I am convinced the cause is in the feed. There were no persons who lost horses on the higher farms about here, because all the high land is on the sand ridges, where they raise principally peanuts and corn. All their fodder is from six to eight months old before it is used. The only places where horses have died from “staggers” to my knowledge is where new feed has been used.
On November 3d I visited Berea Church, 10 miles from Suffolk, where a conference was in progress, and consequently there was a large gathering of farmers from the neighboring country. I soon discovered that the reports of the great loss of horses from the disease had not been exaggerated. The following are the statements of some of the farmers with whom I conversed. I will give the statements as near as possible in their own words, but, of course, much of the information was elicited by questioning.
Mr. Mr. R. Williamson said : I lost 2 horses. The first affected was a mare. She was sick three days; had a staggering gait behind, but at first straddled with front legs; hind part would swing from side to side; she leaned to left side all the time; would prop herself against barn or other object; get spasms and fall every time, and then throw herself about violently and nearly knock her eyes out. I first saw my horse leaning against the stall, right side. I backed him out, and he fell in the passage-way; had slight convulsions, and died six hours after. I fed new hay and oats for a month before the deaths occurred; the oats were moldy. I do not feed many of these oats now. The horse that died so suddenly had a ravenous appetite.
Mr. W. H. Harrell said : I had no disease amongst my horses this year, but have lost one from “staggers" every year except this for the past eight years. They would get stupid, stagger about, or lean to one side against anything near them. This year I fed on feed that was raised last year; therefore they had no feed of this year's growth.
Mr. E. E. Lee said:
out, when he reeled around for awhile and fell, and became completely paralyzed, and did not get up again; died very suddenly. I noticed a difficulty in swallowing in horses I have lost before. I have taken a bucket with a certain quantity of water in it, placed it before them, and they would put their mouths in the water and act as if drinking, but no water would be gone from the bucket. My horses did not graze; I fed on new hay and corn raised in the vicinity; I had some hay that was very much damaged, which I used for bedding; the horse that died ate some of it. I notice this disease appears in the wet, hot, and sultry seasons. I have known it to occur in such seasons for the last sixty years.
Mr. Amos Wilson said:
I lost some with what I would call “sleepy staggers,” and others with “blind staggers,” and others when they could not swallow. I always lost horses when I fed new oats in wet seasons.
I inquired particularly if any mules had been lost from “staggers,” and several persons informed me that Mr. D. Shriver had lost