Bella Siena's story

She was a gorgeous young filly, from one of New Zealand’s best standardbred families.

The first foal from  race-winning mare, Star Gate,  Bella Siena was by  Falcon Seelster, from the maternal family of Starship, (16 wins, 1.54.5, $341,975), one of the best two-year-olds ever to race in New Zealand. This family also  boasts many  other big winners, including Our Ian Mac,  (16 wins, 1.59.1, $194,852), Anvil's Star, (15 wins, 1.54.8, $444,705),  Star Loner  (6 wins, 1.59.1), Star Of Mine (5 wins, 1.52.4) and more recently Rocket Star ( 15 wins, 1.56.5, $277,005) and Crystal Star (8 wins, 1.54.6, $126,745).

Nothing is certain in racing but Bella Siena  had the looks,  bloodlines and potential to  have a  huge career ahead of her on the race track and later as a broodmare.

That was until  we found her seriously ill in her paddock the morning of her first birthday, August 1, 2008.

Less than 24 hours later she was dead,  after suffering a clostridial infection caused by an intra muscular injection (IM) in the neck of Flunixin, administered by  a young vet during treatment for a stone bruise.

It was heart breaking to see her so seriously ill and obviously in so much pain that  dreadful August morning.

She stood unsteadily, her  head held low, her front legs splayed apart,  her motor functions seriously diminished, and her head, neck and mouth badly swollen.  Under her cover and neck rug she was wet with sweat despite the bitterly cold  morning. Her breathing was laboured and raspy and she was frothing at her mouth and nose. She was obviously dehydrated but could not drink  or eat even if she had wanted to because her mouth was so badly swollen. 

The site of our gorgeous filly transformed into this terrible state was shocking beyond belief, and is imbedded in my memory as if hammered there with a red hot poker.

She suffered  terribly   for more than 24 hours fighting to hold onto life. We were devastated by her death. She was being treated for a stone bruise. Now she was dead. How  could this happen?  

After Siena died we had many questions. We spoke to  equine vets in Canterbury and Auckland about her death. All bar one told us they would never  use Flunixin IM in horses, even though they all knew  it was licenced for use that way, because of the risk of clostridial infection which they said was  difficult (and expensive)  to treat, and most often fatal.

We  took these concerns to  the senior  vet  involved in our case but were told by him that Flunixin was licenced for use IM, our filly's death was  just one of those things that happened, and because we had worked with horses for so long we should know that and move on. He then sent us a  $1500 bill  for the treatment of our dead filly.

Later  we also  discovered that under the Veterinary Council of New Zealand's  Code of  Professional Conduct for Veterinarians, vets are required to inform clients, before animals are treated, about any potential adverse reactions that can occur. 

Although  it was  clear, from written and spoken comments they  gave,  that the young vet who treated our filly, and his senior colleagues,  all knew Flunixin IM could cause equine fatalities, I was not cautioned about the risk before she was injected IM with it.

I wrote to one of the senior  vets  involved in our case asking why I had not been cautioned about the risks Flunixin IM posed for our filly.  He  said there were risks with many veterinary medicines.  Fatalities happened rarely  and it  was ``not always possible or practical''  to tell clients about  the risks. 

However,  we believe  it is difficult to justify  this  excuse  when you consider that  "Flunixin IM can be fatal in horses,''  takes less than two seconds to say. This is  information I am sure   all   horse owners  would want to know about before treatment, and, under the Veterinary Council of New Zealand's Code of Professional Conduct,  all vet's are required to inform them of. 

Also, how can we be certain that adverse reactions such as these are rare when in our case a senior colleague of the  vet who treated our filly,  admitted having no intention of filing an adverse reaction report about her death because he said an adverse reaction had not occurred.

Our filly died, and, under the Veterinary Council of New Zealand's own Code of Conduct that most definitely constitutes an adverse reaction.

How can we trust in the  safety and efficacy of the drugs being used on our horses if fatal adverse reactions, such as our filly's death,  are not  even being reported  to the animal drug licencing body, the Agricultural Compounds and Veterinary Medicines Advisory Council (ACVM)?

Some vets, such as those who treated our filly,  will  say that  it is not  Flunixin that causes the problem but the IM administration of it, and that the IM administration of other drugs can also cause clostridial infections. 

However, as a person who has  watched a beautiful young animal die  needlessly, in horrific circumstances, because of  a clostridial infection caused by  Flunixin IM, it matters not one jot to me whether the problem is caused by the Flunixin or the IM administration of it.  When it  is  known that the combination can cause fatalities,  why use it this way?

Surely when you know Flunixin IM can cause fatalities in horses, it should  not be  used  this way, particularly in cases such as this when there were  safer options.

Saying we know fatalities can occur  when we use Flunixin IM in horses,   we hope it won't happen this time, but too bad if it does because it is licenced for use that way, is playing Russian Roulette with an animal's life. Why would anybody do this? We have asked this question many times since our filly died and still do not have an answer.

One of the most respected equine veterinarians in New Zealand, Dr Corin Murfitt , of Christchurch, will not use Flunixin IM in horses.
``My choice to use Flunixin by the IV route is because of my policy of using this route and not because of any known reaction to the preparation, until I heard of your case, apart from the painful sites following IM injections. I have always been personally afraid of clostridial infection with any IM injection and  hence  the reluctance to use the IM route,'' Dr Murfitt said. ``This is because I have seen two horses who developed a peracute clostridial infection following IM injections into the their necks and died, (I didn't inject them). In one  case the drug was an antihistamine, the other I can't remember.''

Dr Scott Weese, a highly respected equine vet from  the Ontario Veterinary College, at the University of Guelph in Canada, will not use Flunixin IM in horses either.

In an article published on the veterinary college's Equid Blog about Intramuscular Injections and Clostridial Myonecrosis on June 19 2009,  Dr Weese wrote: ``Clostridial myonecrosis is a life-threatening disease. It requires immediate and aggressive care, but is often fatal even with treatment.   Intramuscular injection of irritating substances should be avoided. Flunixin meglumine (also called Banamine and a few other trade names) is commonly associated with this disease (clostridial myonecrosis) and should not be injected intramuscularly. Other irritating drugs include Phenylbutazone (bute) and Ivermectin.

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FOOTNOTE: Have your say.  Email Shelley and Nevin at: or telephone us  on (03) 313 6227 Rangiora.

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