MED­I­CAL FRONT

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Study un­der­scores com­mit­ment

old horses in­spire How pol­lu­tion may af­fect

per­for­mance Good news about out­pa­tient

joint surgery Con­for­ma­tion and roar­ing risk New way to mon­i­tor gut ac­tiv­ity

A study from Tufts Univer­sity con­firms what many horse own­ers al­ready know: Peo­ple of­ten tai­lor their man­age­ment rou­tines to the needs of their old horses.

For the study, the re­searchers sur­veyed 2,879 peo­ple who owned or leased at least one horse. The ques­tion­naire col­lected data on ei­ther a sin­gle horse or on two---a pri­mary horse that the per­son in­ter­acted with most and a se­condary one. Horses older than age 20 were clas­si­fied as geri­atric for study pur­poses. In ad­di­tion to ask­ing the age of the horses, the sur­vey in­cluded ques­tions de­signed to ex­plore the depth of emo­tional at­tach­ments, vet­eri­nary care de­ci­sion­mak­ing pro­cesses and ex­pe­ri­ences sur­round­ing the death of a horse.

“Horses are unique among com­pan­ion an­i­mals be­cause of their long life­spans and, there­fore, peo­ple of­ten have longterm re­la­tion­ships with their older horses,” says Me­gan K. Mueller, PhD, of the Cum­mings School of Vet­eri­nary Medicine at Tufts Univer­sity. “Cou­pled with the level of care that horses re­quire, we were in­ter­ested in look­ing at how peo­ple viewed their older horses, made de­ci­sions about vet­eri­nary care and coped with the loss of a horse. Un­der­stand­ing these re­la­tion­ships bet­ter, we be­lieve, will help ve­teri­nar­i­ans and other prac­ti­tion­ers work with their clients to cre­ate treat­ment/man­age­ment plans that will work for them.”

Roughly 22 per­cent of horses that own­ers con­sid­ered “pri­mary” were age 20 or older. The me­dian cost of vet­eri­nary treat­ments the prior year for geri­atric horses was $600, which did not dif­fer sta­tis­ti­cally from the me­dian cost for care of younger horses. Not sur­pris­ingly, a greater pro­por­tion of geri­atric horses had un­der­gone den­tal pro­ce­dures and eval­u­a­tion for pi­tu­itary pars in­ter­me­dia dys­func­tion (PPID, “Cush­ing’s” dis­ease) than did younger horses.

Just over 60 per­cent of re­spon­dents said they had made spe­cial ac­com­mo­da­tions for their older horses, and the ma­jor­ity of those (58 per­cent) in­di­cated that change was feed­ing re­lated, such as a switch to a spe­cialty “se­nior” feed or soak­ing grain. Other mea­sures men­tioned in­clude ad­just­ments to hous­ing (12.4 per­cent), such as mov­ing a horse to a stall, pro­vid­ing a fan or chang­ing turnout rou­tine.

“It is a bal­ance be­tween what is fea­si­ble and what the horse needs,” says Mueller of such changes. “It can be com­plex to de­ter­mine what kinds of ac­com­mo­da­tions are pos­si­ble and help­ful, which just fur­ther jus­ti­fies how un­der­stand­ing the re­la­tion­ship be­tween older horses and their own­ers is needed to cre­ate man­age­ment plans that are work­able for ev­ery­one.”

Mueller says she was sur­prised when the data showed that the level of be­reave­ment over the loss of a geri­atric horse was higher when the death was re­lated to a chronic ill­ness rather than an acute trauma.

“This is in con­trast to some prior re­search on dog or cat own­ers. We don’t know the rea­sons be­hind this, but it could be a func­tion of the length of the re­la­tion­ship or pos­si­bly the in­vest­ment of time/re­sources that own­ers put into manag­ing a horse with a chronic ill­ness. There is a po­ten­tial for care­giver bur­den when manag­ing a pet with a chronic ill­ness. We are ac­tu­ally con­duct­ing a study on that right now.”

Ref­er­ence: “Sur­vey of hu­man­horse re­la­tion­ships and vet­eri­nary care for geri­atric horses,” Jour­nal of the Amer­i­can Vet­eri­nary Med­i­cal Association, Au­gust 2018

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