White muscle disease in foals: Focus on selenium soil content. A case series

Catherine Delesalle*, Marco Bruijn, Sanne Wilmink, Hilde Vandendriessche, Gerben Mol, Berit Boshuizen, Lukas Plancke, Guy Grinwis

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

27 Citations (Scopus)


Background: White muscle disease (WMD) is a nutritional myopathy caused by selenium (Se) deficiency. In most soils, Se is present in low concentrations, sometimes even below 0.2 mg/kg, a trend which is seen in many countries. Apart from total soil Se concentrations, soil conditions may be such that the bio-availability of Se is so low that it causes very low uptake in plants which can ultimately lead to deficiency problems in animals. This is the first case series to report clinical WMD in foals in areas deficient in Se, in the Netherlands. The aim of the current report is to provide an overview of the clinical history, symptoms and (clinical) pathology of 8 newborn foals living at 4 different premises and suffering from WMD together with the effectiveness of Se and vitamin E (Vit E) supplementation in the affected foals, their dams and herd members. Hands on practical information is provided to apply a correct and effective Se supplementation management in horses and which pitfalls need to be avoided for a successful approach. Case presentation: Case features and history were mapped out for all foals. Se and Vit E status were assessed for the foals, their dams and herd members, at admission and after 3 months of Vit E/Se supplementation. Common symptoms were muscle weakness, inability to rise, lethargy and inadequate suckle reflex together with increased serum muscle enzymes and low glutathione peroxidase (GSH-Px) and low to normal serum vit E levels. Necropsy revealed necrosis of skeletal muscles consistent with nutritional myopathy. Se status of the dams and herd members correlated well with the Se status of the foals. All surviving foals (n = 6) showed normal Vit E and GSH-Px levels after supplementation, likewise, all horses tested at premises 1, 3 and 4. However, dams and herd members in premises 2 showed no normalization. Horses of that premises were diagnosed with pyrrolizidine intoxication one year prior to the study. Conclusions: Certain regions in the Netherlands are sufficiently Se deficient to predispose newborn foals to develop WMD, especially when they are being fed a diet that mainly consists of locally harvested roughage.

Original languageEnglish
Article number121
JournalBMC Veterinary Research
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 3 May 2017


  • Liver disease
  • Nutritional myopathy
  • Selenium
  • Soil analysis
  • Vitamin E


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