Tragically, the first time some livestock producers hear the term “White Muscle Disease” is during the necropsy of one of their animals. What causes this serious disease and more importantly, how can it be prevented?
Cause of White Muscle Disease
White Muscle Disease (WMD) is caused by a deficiency of either of two important nutritional anti-oxidants: Vitamin E and Selenium. Anti-oxidants help protect cell membranes from the oxidizing effects of toxins, free radicals, normal metabolism and other factors that destroy cell membranes. Young, growing animals are rapidly creating muscle mass, so Selenium deficiency shows itself most commonly as muscle cell degeneration.
There are various areas of the country that are deficient in Selenium and other areas that have toxic levels. Pacific Northwest soils are generally low in Selenium, as are feeds that are grown here.
Signs of Illness
Some of the signs of Selenium deficiency depend on the tissues that are affected. Young animals may appear stiff, lame or weak; spend most of their time lying down and resting their chin on the ground; have diarrhea; and be unthrifty, chronic poor do-ers. If the muscles involved with swallowing are affected, food can be inhaled instead of ingested, which causes aspiration pneumonia. Animals may die very suddenly during exercise if heart muscle is involved. In pigs, Selenium deficiency can also cause liver degeneration.
Selenium deficiency manifests itself much differently in adult animals. Instead of muscle degeneration, weakness and death, Selenium-deficient adults tend to have chronic infections and reproductive problems. Examples include chronic mastitis, chronic pneumonia, retained placenta, infertility and miscarriages.