Just prior to an international polo event, 21 horses from one team exhibited clinical signs of central nervous system disturbance, hyperexcitability, sweating, ataxia, tachycardia, dyspnea, pyrexia, and rapid death. The suspected cause of this peracute onset of illness and death included intentional contamination of feed or iatrogenic administration of performance-enhancing drugs resulting in a severe adverse reaction. Six horses were submitted to the Bronson Animal Disease Diagnostic Laboratory for necropsy and toxicological examination. The clinical signs and sudden death, the similarity to earlier work by the lead author of selenium toxicosis in calves, as well as published reports, prompted investigators to focus on selenium testing. Sixty-four hours following receipt, the laboratory detected toxic selenium concentrations in the tissues of these animals. Following further investigation of the case by regulatory officials, it was determined that all affected horses had received an intravenous injection of a compounded "vitamin/mineral" supplement just prior to the onset of signs. The compounded supplement contained toxic levels of selenium. The present report illustrates the in-depth laboratory investigation of the cause of acute death in 6 polo ponies due to selenium toxicosis. In addition to solving this high profile case, the toxic levels of selenium found in livers (6.13 ± 0.31 mg/kg wet weight), kidneys (6.25 ± 0.3 mg/kg wet weight), and sera (1.50 ± 0.11 μg/ ml) of these affected animals may provide important diagnostic criteria for future interpretations of selenium concentrations in tissues of horses.
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