White Muscle Disease
by Robert Van Saun, DVM, MS, PhD Department of Veterinary Science Pennsylvania State University
Clinical Signs. Selenium deficiency may result in various syndromes including abortion, stillbirth, weak kids, poor growth and muscular lesions. Selenium and vitamin E deficiency can cause acute muscle necrosis known as white muscle disease.
Usually young fast growing kids are affected anywhere from birth to full grown. Kids are acutely painful, reluctant to move but may still eat. Sometimes it manifests itself as sudden death as the heart muscle is affected.
Causes. Most soils around the Northeast are very deficient in selenium, resulting in low selenium content of forages. Selenium functions as an antioxidant, generally in concert with another antioxidant, vitamin E. Selenium and vitamin E have been shown to be equally or mutually protective against a wide range of disease processes. Both vitamin E and selenium have been associated with maintaining normal immune function. Degeneration of muscle fibers associated with white muscle disease is believed to be related to a lack of antioxidants to protect cells against prooxidant reactants generated during normal metabolic reactions.
Treatment. In acute cases of white muscle disease, injection of selenium with vitamin E may result in clinical recovery. Multiple injection products are available with varying selenium concentrations. One must be careful in proper dosage as an excessive dosing can result in an immediately fatal reaction.
Prevention. Pregnant does can be injected two to four weeks prior to kidding to protect the newborns if the doe was not supplemented in the diet. Kids should be re-injected at one month of age if no feed supplementation. Appropriate feed supplementation is the preferred method of prevention.
Selenium is considered a feed additive and regulated by the Food and Drug Administration. There are specific regulations for dietary selenium supplementation. Free choice trace mineral salts can have a maximum of 90 ppm selenium. At a typical consumption rate, this would provide the maximum of 0.7 mg selenium per day. Selenium premixes can be added to a maximum of 0.3 ppm supplemental selenium in the total diet.