Horse Health: You Can Lead a Horse to Water…

By Jen Roytz

We’ve all heard the saying “You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make them drink.” Horses have to be thirsty in order to consume water, and the lynchpin in that scenario is salt. Dehydration in horses–or any animal–can quickly escalate from mild to catastrophic. Their internal environment is water-based, and salt is the driving force behind the regulation and distribution of water in and out of cells.

“Salt is 39% sodium and 61% chloride. When consumed, salt will split in the body into the separate minerals to be used independently (as electrolytes),” said Dr. Kathleen Crandell, PhD, a nutritionist with Kentucky Equine Research (KER). “Both these minerals have independent roles in the body, but mainly they work together balancing fluid movement in and out of the cells and acid-base balance, as well as electrical impulse conduction in nerves and muscles. Further, sodium is needed for transport of substances across cell membranes, like glucose.”

LInk to TDN Article

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Newborn Foals Most at Risk from Equine Flu

 

Newborn foals are among the most at-risk members of the horse population, the Thoroughbred Breeders’ Association’s veterinary adviser, James Crowhurst, said Feb. 7, following the confirmation of an outbreak of equine influenza in Great Britain.

While cases of the highly contagious virus have so far been confined to horses of racing age, Crowhurst, who is also a consultant clinician at the Newmarket Equine Hospital, said the TBA was understandably worried.

 

Link to BloodHorse Article

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Horse Health: Alert – Baby on the way!

By Jen Roytz

As we embark on a new year full of hope and promise, ’tis the season for early mornings, sleepless nights and seemingly endless anticipation for those in the breeding industry. Those tasked with helping the next generation of equine athletes enter this world go to great lengths to be on-hand when each foal is born and do everything they can to ensure a successful delivery, or to call a veterinarian if any problems arise.

The foaling process is broken down into three stages. Stage 1 being early signs of labor; stage 2 is when the water breaks and the actual delivery of the foal; and stage 3 is the expulsion of the placenta.

Once a mare progresses to stage 2, it is imperative the foal be delivered within 30 minutes or less to avoid hypoxia (oxygen deprivation), which can lead to brain damage or death of the foal. While regularly checking mares throughout the day and night is recommended as they near their due date, it is often a game of minutes versus hours.

Horses have evolved from foaling in the wild and needing to deliver a foal and stand in quick succession to protect themselves and their newborn. By nature, stage 2 of equine labor (water breaks and foal is delivered) happens rapidly and can be explosive. That explosive nature also means that when things go wrong, they go wrong quickly.

“I’d say 80 to 85% of deliveries go routinely, but those 10 to 15% that don’t are why it’s so important for someone knowledgeable to be present.” said Dr. Bob Schwartz, a veterinarian with Midland Acres in Bloomingburg, Ohio. Schwartz and his team foal out more than 200 mares a year. “An experienced attendant will know issues they can deal with themselves, when they need to call a vet and when it’s bad enough that a mare needs to go immediately to the clinic.”

While there are numerous brands and makers of foal alarms on the market today, they can generally be organized into two main categories: externally worn sensors and perineal monitoring systems.

Systems with Externally Worn Sensors

There are several devices on the market that utilize sensors affixed to the head or body of a mare to react to classic presentations in a mare that typically signal birth.

EquiFone/EquiPage, Birth Alarm and Breeders Alert systems, for example, utilize a device affixed to a mare’s halter or to a monitor connected to a girth strap that senses when the mare is in the prone position (i.e. lying flat out on her side–the typical position for labor). The device transmits a signal to either a phone or a pager to alert the person(s) on call that the mare is in foaling position.

Michele Graves of Hickory Hill Farm Thoroughbreds in Fort Edward, New York near Saratoga Springs uses the EquiPage system for her farm, which foals out 25 to 35 mares each year.

“With the EquiPage [system], we know the mare is going into labor before the water breaks [due to being alerted to her movements]. We also use it on the mares in the weeks after they give birth because so much can go wrong then as well,” said Graves. “We use it for other scenarios too, such as horses that have just shipped long distances or those that showed signs of colic during the day because they offer the same presentations when they are colicking that a mare would–the looking at their belly, getting up and down, yawning. You do get some false alarms, but those are worth it to know when a horse is in distress.”

Nightwatch takes this one step further, monitoring a horse’s vital signs and behaviors via sensors embedded in the padded leather crown piece of the halter. Real-time data can be accessed via a Smartphone, tablet or computer and an alert is sent when the system signals a horse in distress due to foaling, colic or being cast.

Perineal Monitoring Systems

Another group of foaling alert systems involve affixing the sensor to the mare’s perineal area or within the vagina.

One popular model is Foalert, in which a transmitter containing a magnet is sutured into the vulva lips one to two weeks prior to a mare’s due date. When the vulva lips are opened due to the foal’s front hooves protruding as delivery begins, the magnet dislodges from the transmitter, activating a signal to alert foaling attendants, either via telephone/pager or by sounding an alarm within close proximity to the transmitter.

“I’ve used the Foalert for years, both on my own mares and on client mares, and I find them very reliable. You don’t get the false alarms you can get with some other system that attach to the halter or girth area when a mare lays down or turns to itch,” said Dr. Joan Tennant, DVM, an equine practitioner based in Ocala, Florida. “I find the alarm goes off when the amniotic fluid bubble is expelled, so you get the alert even in the case of a dystocia that prevents the foal from protruding.”

The Birth Alert system uses a tampon-like sponge that is inserted into the mare’s vagina in the weeks leading up to her due date. When the mare’s water breaks, the device is expelled and the change in temperature activates the device to send a signal to the foaling attendant that the mare is in labor.

The only disadvantage, according to Schwartz, is the possibility of the sponge and sensor being dispelled unintentionally and offering a false-positive.

“I think these systems have a lot of merit for those who don’t have full time attendants through the night,” said Schwartz. “There is less chance of false alarms with these types of systems, but if the foal is breech or otherwise malpositioned, you may not get an alarm.”

For these and similarly invasive systems, a sterile application is key. It is recommended that a veterinarian apply/insert the device to prevent infection or irritation.

Video Monitoring

Closed-circuit video feeds can also play an important role in monitoring mares as they near their due date, especially when used on conjunction with foaling alert systems.

“We’ve used NightWatch for the last six years or so and we also have cameras on all of the mares. The key for us is the audio that goes along with it,” said Braxton Lynch of Royal Oak Farm in Paris, Kentucky. “In my opinion, you can’t beat eyes and ears on a mare prior to foaling.”

There are also smartphone apps available, such as Foal App, which allow users to monitor your mare via video and movement and will alert those whose phones are connected to the app if the mare lays down for a prolonged period.

While technology has afforded the luxury of many types of birth alarms, no device is 100% effective. All birth alarms should be used in conjunction with good horsemanship and monitoring practices, including regularly checking each mare every 30 to 60 minutes when foaling is imminent.

“What works for a large farm probably wouldn’t work well for a small one and vice versa. If a farm with a large number of mares had monitors on each, they’d be getting false positives constantly, but they can afford to have staff on-hand around the clock,” said Graves. “For a smaller operation that can’t afford night staff, foaling alarms are a good solution.”

Added Schwartz, “You can’t watch them 24 hours a day–you have to sleep too–so for smaller operations, foaling alerts can be an important tool to help keep mares and newborn foals out of trouble.”

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Pregnancy Problems: How to Increase Your Chances of Delivering a Healthy Foal

By Jen Roytz

What could be that difficult about breeding? You select a stallion that suits the mare and your goals, breed your mare, then keep her fed and watered for 11 months until you’re rewarded with a healthy foal.

If only it were that simple.

There are many reasons a mare can prove difficult to get into foal, or to stay in foal. It could be as simple function of age. It could be results from a complicated delivery. Or, it could be a multitude of other reasons.

Regardless, now is the time breeders should be paying special attention to preparing their breeding stock for the upcoming season, and for those with known issues there are added safeguards and steps breeders can take she gave themselves and their horses the best chance at a successful pregnancy.

Issues that Can Impact Conception

There are many reasons a horse may have issues getting impregnated, the most basic of which are her age, not breeding her at the appropriate time during her cycle, or poor reproductive health of the mare or stallion.

A typical mare’s ovum, or egg, begins to lose viability within just five to six hours post-ovulation, and typically loses all viability within 24 hours. While a stallion’s semen typically remains viable for 48 hours, a reduced number and quality of a stallion’s semen can limit its viability to just a few hours. Age can negatively impact these timeframes for both sexes.

The mare’s body condition can also play into her chances of becoming pregnant. Most veterinarians recommend mares to rank around a 5 or a 6 on the Henneke Body Condition Score (BCS). When a mare’s weight and overall health decline, so too does their reproductive efficiency.

Outside of age and general health-related issues, endometritis is the most common reason for infertility in mares. This condition, which is an infection or inflammation of the lining of the uterus caused by foreign contaminants such as bacteria or spermatozoa, can either be acute as a result of breeding (both artificial and natural), reproductive examination or as a result of poor conformation.

“There are simple, but important steps one can take to improve the chances of conception, including a physical examination of both the mare and the stallion, a careful and thorough reproductive exam of the mare prior to the breeding season and during the estrous cycle during which breeding is to occur and to optimize the overall health of the horse,” said Kristina Lu, VMD, an equine reproductive specialist with Hagyard Equine Medical Institute.

Early vs. Late Term Pregnancy Loss

Just as there are a number of reasons a mare can be difficult to impregnate, the same can hold true for keeping her in foal. Most pregnancy losses occur in the initial weeks and months of pregnancy.

Again, age can play a role. As mares age, they may experience uterine fibrosis, which can lead to a placenta that is less-efficient in getting nutrition to the growing fetus.

Other causes for early-term pregnancy loss can be unavoidable complications, such as genetic defects or embryonic abnormalities. They can also be due to uterine infections that may have been low-grade and undetectable at the time of breeding/conception but proliferate in the subsequent weeks and months.

Late-term losses can have their own set of culprits.

“Placentitis, umbilical cord torsion, systemic illness can all cause late, and in some cases mid-term abortion in mares,” said Lu. “Diseases such as leptospirosis, equine herpesvirus 1 or 4 and equine viral arteritis are threats to a healthy gestation as well, some of which can spread quickly through a herd and may not generate obvious clinical signs other than abortion.”

Then there are also those mares that have little trouble carrying a foal to term, only to be prone to dystocias (difficulty giving birth), which can be caused by congenital abnormalities, such as contracted limbs that prevent the foal from properly fitting through the birth canal. This, in turn, can lead to oxygen deprivation in foals.

Safeguards to Protect Both Mare and Foal

While some complications are simply unavoidable, there are safeguards and protocols that can be implemented to support the gestation and delivery of a healthy foal.

“Some simple things horsemen and women can do to protect their mares and future foals are to maintain good general health of a mare, conduct thorough reproductive examinations, monitor the mare’s reproductive tract before and after breeding, ensure regular core vaccinations, consider screening for placentitis if the mare has a previous history and consider vaccinating for herpes or leptospirosis if appropriate,” said Lu. “Breeding as close to ovulation as possible can also be of benefit. On the other hand, repeated breeding during an estrous cycle (average 21 days) may increase opportunity for endometritis in some mares.”

Above all else, staying in regular communication with your veterinarian is one of the best forms of protection one can afford their mares.

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Bad Bedding? Straw Hard On Equine Lungs

by | 12.27.2018 | 11:21am

Straw bedding and dry hay can be risk factors for inflammatory airway disease (IAD) in performance horses, a new study shows.

Julie Dauvillier, Fe ter Woort and Emmanuelle van Erck‐Westergren, who represent the Equine Sports Medicine Practice in Waterloo, Belgium, studied the role of fungi in IAD. Horses affected with IAD generally have poor performance, a cough and excess mucus in the airways.

The researchers used 731 horses that were used for racing, sport and leisure riding in their study. The trio collected data, observed environmental conditional and collected samples from bronchoalveolar lavages and tracheal washes. Fungal cultures were positive in 55 percent of the horses; horses that had fungal elements in their tracheal wash samples were twice as likely to have IAD.

Horses bedded on straw were 90 percent more likely to have fungi in their tracheal wash than those bedded on other materials; horses bedded in wood shavings had only a 40 percent risk of fungi in their wash.

Hay and straw are naturally contaminated with fungal spores during harvest; storage can increase fungus proliferation. Steaming did help reduce the fungal particles hay, but soaking did not decrease the amount of fungal spores dramatically.

Read more at HorseTalk.

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Does Your Overweight Horse Have An Insulin Problem?

by Eleanor M. Kellon, VMD

 

Easy keepers and overweight horses and ponies have been around forever. Laminitis has also always been with us, and it’s no secret that overweight animals are at high risk. We now know that the vast majority of laminitis cases are caused by high insulin levels – hyperinsulinemia. Does this mean being overweight/obese causes insulin problems?

 

It might seem that way superficially but the logic is faulty.

 

There is an important principle in science which states, “Correlation (or association) is not causation”. Observing that things occur together does not mean one causes the other. Let’s say that the native horses of the country Muropa are observed to regularly consume the leaves of the Bajunga plant, which only grows in Muropa. It has also been observed that Muropa horses never develop sweet itch. Does this mean Bajunga protects from sweet itch? While there could be a link, this doesn’t prove it. It could be a genetic factor protecting them – or simply that there are no Culicoides midges in Muropa!

 

Many horses that develop laminitis are overweight or obese. We know that the vast majority of laminitis cases are caused by high insulin levels. The correlation has always been obvious and it didn’t take long for an assumption to arise that obesity is a laminitis risk factor and causes elevated insulin. There’s just one thing: It’s not true.

 

A study (Bamford) published in the Equine Veterinary Journal in 2015, fed horses and ponies a control diet or one designed to cause obesity, by feeding either excess fat or excess fat and glucose. The weight gain did not reduce insulin sensitivity in either group. Dr. Bamford has also clearly shown that insulin responses to oral or intravenous glucose have marked variation by breed in horses of normal weight. You can read all of Dr. Bamford’s work in detail in his thesis here: https://minerva-access.unimelb.edu.au/bitstream/handle/11343/148423/Bamford%20PhD%20Thesis.pdf?sequence=1.

 

Selim, et al., 2015, followed two groups of Finnhorse mares on either native pasture or intensively managed improved pasture. At the end of 98 days of grazing, the mares on improved pasture went from a body condition score of 5.5 to 7 and gained 145 pounds; but this was not associated with insulin resistance.

 

If obesity isn’t a cause, why is more insulin resistance seen in obese horses – 25 to 50% IR depending on the study versus 10 to 15% of horses in general? The answer is simple. The IR increases appetite and weight gain. Yes, there is an association between obesity and high insulin but obesity is the result, not the cause.

 

This is more than just splitting hairs. If you think obesity is a cause, then weight control becomes a treatment — even possibly a cure. When you realize it is a consequence, not a cause, expectations for results of weight loss become more realistic. There are many benefits to weight loss and it should be aggressively pursued, but it won’t make insulin resistance go away.  Approximately 50% of IR horses are normal weight.

 

 

About ECIR Group Inc.

Started in 1999, the ECIR Group is the largest field-trial database for PPID and IR in the world and provides the latest research, diagnosis, and treatment information, in addition to dietary recommendations, for horses with these conditions. Even universities do not and cannot compile and follow long term as many in-depth case histories of PPID/IR horses as the ECIR Group.

 

In 2013 the Equine Cushing’s and Insulin Resistance Group Inc., an Arizona nonprofit corporation, was approved as a 501(c)3 public charity. Tax deductible contributions and grants support ongoing research, education, and awareness of Equine Cushing’s Disease/PPID and Insulin Resistance.

 

THE MISSION of the ECIR Group Inc. is to improve the welfare of equines with metabolic disorders via a unique interface between basic research, and real-life clinical experience. Prevention of laminitis is the ultimate goal. The ECIR Group serves the scientific community, practicing clinicians, and owners by focusing on investigations most likely to quickly, immediately, and significantly benefit the welfare of the horse.

 

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Ask Your Veterinarian: How Much Does Environment Influence OCD Lesions?

by | 07.09.2018 | 2:38pm

Question: What do we know about environmental factors that could make a horse more or less likely to get OCD?

Answer: Osteochondrosis (OC) is widely understood to be a disturbance of endochondral ossification (the formation of bone from cartilage) and is arguably one of the most clinically relevant developmental orthopedic diseases in the equine patient. Although it was once thought that OC lesions were static, sequential radiographic studies on foals, weanlings, and yearlings revealed that the characteristic lesions of OC could increase in size or completely regress (“heal”) up to 12 months of age. The timeline of this lesion formation and regression is different for each joint, and has supported the idea that there are number of environmental factors, in addition to genetics, that play a role in the progression of osteochondrosis.

Although no definitive cause of osteochondrosis has been determined, factors such as nutrition and exercise have been shown to play a role in the development and progression of OC lesions. Of these possible etiologies, the role of nutrition has been most closely investigated. Initial research into the effect of diet on OC focused largely on dietary energy level, usually in relation to a high growth rate.  Although the results of many of these studies seem to be conflicting, many support the conclusion that high growth rate (a combination of genetics and diet) is associated with an increase in the severity of OC lesions. It is important to note, however, that this is a combined effect: decreasing nutritional plane below maintenance levels will not decrease the incidence or severity of OC lesions and can lead to other dietary imbalances.

Studies investigating the role of trace elements (copper, zinc, calcium, and phosphorus) have determined that low copper levels (which can be induced by increased zinc) are linked to decreased resolution of OC lesions, and copper supplementation, to a certain extent, was able to reduce the severity of cartilage lesions. Investigations into the role of calcium and phosphorus in OC have determined that high calcium diets failed to produce OC lesions, whereas high phosphorus diets (five times NRC) reliably produced lesions in foals.

The role of exercise in the formation of OC lesions seems intuitive; it is well known that exercise is vital to the formation of a functional articular cartilage surface and OC is a developmental defect in articular cartilage. Investigations into the exact role of exercise in OC however, have yielded conflicting results.  In some studies, increased exercise was correlated with decreased incidence in OC, whereas other research was unable to find decreased incidence in OC lesions with exercised horses but did notice a decrease in severity of existing lesions. As with nutrition, it is clear that although exercise can play a supporting role in decreasing the incidence or severity of OC, no single factor is responsible for the course of the disease.

Since the process of cartilage metabolism and bone formation is highly dynamic, especially during the first year of age, it is widely thought that there are certain periods of times (“windows of susceptibility”) during which environmental factors can play a pivotal role in the severity of OC lesions. Research investigating these developmental periods, as well as the exact pathogenesis of osteochondrosis, will yield more answers and recommendations in the future.

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Ask Your Veterinarian: What Heart Scans Can Tell You, And What They Can’t

by | 05.21.2018 | 6:34pm

Secretariat, who was known for having an abnormally large heart

QUESTION: Some buyers at the upper end of the auction market are now including heart scans as part of their pre-sale vetting process. What can these scans tell buyers, and what don’t they tell us?

ANSWER: Heart scans, also known as echocardiograms, are used to create ultrasonographic images of the heart. Echocardiography allows visualization of the entirety of the heart. This includes the cardiac walls and interventricular septum (composed of cardiac muscle), the valves and chambers within the heart, and the large vessels that carry blood to and away from the heart.  Ultrasound facilitates accurate measurement of these cardiac structures and can be performed at different phases of the cardiac cycle (such as systole and diastole). By examining the heart throughout the cardiac cycle, determination of cardiac function indicators can be made. Some of these indicators of cardiac function include stroke volume, cardiac output, fractional shortening, and end-diastolic volume.

Many of us are familiar with racehorses storied to have famously large hearts—Secretariat and Eclipse being two primary examples. It has been theorized that the successes of these two legendary horses can be credited to the size of this organ. And there is reason to conclude that this is the case. The left ventricle is the most muscular cardiac chamber and is responsible for pumping oxygenated blood coming directly from the lungs out through the aorta to be delivered to the rest of the body. In human athletes that are trained for either endurance or strength, there is evidence that thickening (hypertrophy) of the left ventricular wall can occur with training. This structural change can lead to increases in stroke volume and cardiac output, which ultimately enhance a person’s oxygen carrying capacity. Studies have also demonstrated that these structural changes can occur in equine athletes in response to training. Electrocardiography was used in the 1970s to demonstrate that increased cardiac size is related to enhanced athletic performance.

Heart scans have become an important component of the sales process. The veterinarians who perform these scans have measured a large number of equine hearts and have as such amassed a large database of information. This information can be used to make recommendations on both the athletic and breeding potential for a horse. Because much of this data is proprietary information, there is a paucity of recent peer-reviewed literature available on the subject. However, many who have pursued this purchasing strategy have encountered success in using it. It must be emphasized that evaluating the heart in isolation from the rest of the body is really just “one piece of the puzzle”. The athletic potential of a sales horse often includes analysis of other factors, including genetics and musculoskeletal conformation, before a recommendation is made.

The use of echocardiography in horses is not limited to assessing athletic potential. Echocardiography is a critical tool in evaluating a horse’s heart for cardiac pathology. When performed for this reason, a heart scan is typically completed by a cardiologist or internal medicine specialist. The aim of an echocardiographic examination in this scenario is to gather information that will allow for diagnosis and treatment recommendations. Common indications for this type of heart scan include valvular leakage, stretching of the cardiac walls, and congenital defects. While any of these abnormalities can certainly affect athletic potential, they can also interfere with a horse’s longevity and even a horse’s safety to ride due to a potential for collapse. Just as in heart scans performed in a sales setting, the echocardiogram can be used by a specialist as “one piece of the puzzle”. Other diagnostic tools, such as physical examination, electrocardiography, and exercise testing, will aid a veterinarian in tracking progression of disease and formulation of a treatment plan.

Dr. Bill Gilsenan received his veterinary degree from the University of Pennsylvania in 2008. Following an internship at Colorado State University, he completed a residency in large animal internal medicine at the New Bolton Center—University of Pennsylvania. He became board certified in large animal internal medicine in 2012. He held a faculty position at the Virginia-Maryland College of Veterinary Medicine until joining the staff at Rood and Riddle Equine Hospital as an internal medicine specialist in 2015.

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Ask Your Veterinarian: Recovery Time After Long Hauls

by | 05.02.2018 | 11:40am

Kentucky Derby Champion Nyquist is escorted off the van by groom Elias Anaya after arriving at Monmouth Park July 27 ahead of the Haskell

QUESTION: When a horse ships long distances to race, why do some lose so much weight…and how long does it take them to recover fully?

DR. PETER MORRESEY: Transportation causes stress in horses. Many things are done to minimize this, but stress cannot be eliminated completely and like people, horses respond individually. Many studies have been performed to assess metabolic and physical changes in transported horses.

During transport, heart and respiratory rates increase. The stress hormone cortisol is released, promoting breakdown of body tissue and energy stores. The levels of other hormones involved in metabolism (e.g. thyroid hormone) are also altered.

Transportation also results in the horse constantly needing to preserve balance, requiring energy from his muscles. This is most needed during acceleration and deceleration of the transport vehicle, so the skill of the driver also affects body condition.

All of these alterations to the daily needs of the horse over and above maintenance consume energy. In addition to this, exposure to new horses and novel environments provide an infectious challenge; this, too, has an energy cost to defend against.

During transportation, horses vary in their water and food intake. If the horse eats and drinks adequately, losses will be comparatively small and easily made up. When the horse cannot or will not eat enough due to circumstance or personality, these reductions compound the loss of energy stores and body condition (muscle, fat).

Recovery time varies between individuals. Time taken to recoup losses depends upon the ability of the horse to resume intake adequate to replace losses and meet ongoing needs. For some horses this is not difficult and they rapidly adjust with minimal outward signs. For others, situations of stress resulting from a new environment, altered social setting, and variations in the food offered due to different hay/concentrates and water source (which can greatly affect taste) mean many days may be needed to regain body condition and energy stores depleted on their journey. There is no set period over which this may occur. Special attention should be paid in the days following transportation to the vital signs of the horse, with alterations in respiratory rate or effort, or elevations in rectal temperature, requiring prompt veterinary attention.

Opportunities to ease the stress and resulting losses due to transportation include acclimating the horse to trailers or stalls well in advance of the time of transport, progressively altering food offered to match that available during their journey, and ensuring in the initial period after arrival that routine and feedstuffs to as great of a degree as possible do not deviate any more than necessary from that which the horse might expect.

Dr. Morresey began his career in New Zealand as a mixed animal practitioner following graduation from Massey University in 1988. He completed a theriogenology residence at the University of Florida and spent time as part of clinical faculty at the University of Pennsylvania. Areas of interest include reproduction, internal medicine, neonatal medicine, veterinary business and Chinese medicine.

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Possible Link Between Selenium and Cribbing In Horses

by

 

Stereotypic behaviors such as weaving, cribbing, and stall-walking occur commonly in high-performance horses as well as many companion horses. In addition to being unsightly, potentially damaging to the barn, and raising welfare concerns, stereotypic behaviors also result in important health issues such as dental disorders, temporohyoid joint damage, poor performance, weight loss, and colic.

“Cribbing is the most troublesome of these compulsive behaviors. It involves grasping a fixed object with the incisor teeth and aspirating air with an audible grunt,” explained Kathleen Crandell, Ph.D., a nutritionist for Kentucky Equine Research.

The exact reason horses crib remains unknown. Some suggest that cribbing horses have unmet dietary or management needs. Others believe that altered biological functions are the culprits, such as decreased antioxidant levels or increased oxidative stress.

Because trace elements such as selenium, zinc, manganese, and copper protect the body from oxidative stress, one research group* recently explored the hypothesis that oxidation status may contribute to cribbing. To test this theory, blood samples were collected from horses during or immediately after an episode of cribbing and when cribbers were resting. Control horses with no known history of cribbing were also tested. Samples were analyzed for various markers of oxidation.

“The most important finding in this study was that serum selenium concentration was significantly lower in cribbing horses than in controls, with the lowest levels measured while horses were actually cribbing,” Crandell said.

Based on these data, the researchers concluded “that alterations in serum selenium, an important component of the antioxidant system, may play a role in the pathophysiology of cribbing behavior in horses, adding further evidence to the theory that cribbing may be related to increased oxidative stress and alterations in essential trace elements.”

Micronutrients imbalances can affect many physiological processes, which is one reason why Kentucky Equine Research nutrition advisors are available for consultation. They can help with feed analysis, recommend ration fortifiers containing vitamins and minerals such as Micro-Max (Gold Pellet in Australia), and antioxidants such as Nano•E, a water-soluble, natural-source of vitamin E, and Preserve PS (Preserve in Australia) to provide natural-source vitamin E, vitamin C, and other antioxidants.

“Management also plays an important part in minimizing stereotypic behaviors. Strategies such as providing environmental enrichment tools, offering free-choice hay or prolonged grazing, and allowing direct visual contact or prolonged turnout time in groups are thought to improve the welfare of affected horses,” Crandell mentioned.

*Omidi, A., R. Jafari, N. Saeed, et al. 2018. Potential role for selenium in the pathophysiology of crib-biting behavior in horses. Journal of Veterinary Behavior 23:10-14.

Article reprinted courtesy of Kentucky Equine Research (KER). Visit equinews.com for the latest in equine nutrition and management, and subscribe to The Weekly Feed to receive these articles directly (equinews.com/newsletters).   

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