Foal X-rays could predict joint trouble; frequent feeding may minimize ulcers
What if you could view X-rays of a young foal and predict problems that he might have as an adult? That might give you time to take supportive measures to prevent the problems from occurring. That was essentially the goal behind a study conducted by Elizabeth M. Santschi, DVM, DACVS, professor of equine surgery at Kansas State University’s College of Veterinary Medicine, and her team. They wanted to determine if incomplete formation of minerals required to grow healthy bones (mineralization), in this case knee and hock bones, in foals could predict problems later in life—such as deviations in limb straightness, misshapen bones and osteoarthritis— that can negatively affect athletic performance.
For the study, researchers selected 100 full-term Thoroughbred foals living on horse farms in central Kentucky. The team reviewed X-rays of the foals’ knee and hock joints taken during their first week of life and again at 110 to 301 days of age.
In the first-week X-rays, researchers evaluated the level of mineralization of the joints’ cartilage that would eventually turn into full-size bone (cuboidal bone growth cartilage). They found that mineralization was complete in only 46 percent of the foals.
The team then reviewed the X-rays taken when the foals were older and identified any abnormalities. In comparing their findings from the younger and older X-rays, the researchers discovered that foals whose joints had not fully mineralized tended to demonstrate abnormalities (like those mentioned above) in their hocks at the later age. Interestingly, no such relationship was shown in the knee joints.
The researchers concluded that there is an association between lack of mineralization and later issues, at least in the hock joints. Since X-rays can show incomplete mineralization in very young foals, they could be useful in early identification of potential trouble. And that, says Dr. Santschi, would allow the foal’s owner to initiate measures—such as limiting exercise for the youngster—that could help reduce the risk of future problems.
Frequent Feeding May Minimize Ulcers
The horse’s digestive system is designed for a diet of high-fiber forage eaten in relatively small amounts throughout the day. In other words, grazing. But many modern competition horses live in stalls and are fed just two to three times per day, often on diets with high levels of starchy grains. Past research has shown that these practices play a role in the increased number of gastric ulcers seen in today’s performance horses.
Feeding more often is too time-intensive for most horse caretakers. But what if automatic feeders came into play? That’s what Luke Bass, DVM, MS, Dipl. ABVP, set out to discover with his team at Colorado State University’s College of Veterinary Medicine and Biomedical Sciences.
To test the premise, the researchers selected 31 2-year-old Quarter Horses who were being prepped for CSU’s annual auction. The horses were acclimated to the designated diet for 10 days before the study began. They were also moved from dry lots to individual stalls and during the study period they were all started under saddle and exercised at a moderate level.
All horses were fed the same type and amount of grain. They were randomly assigned to one of two grain-feeding regimens: 15 horses were fed grain twice a day and the remaining 16 horses were put on a “fractioned-fed” program—receiving their grain in 20 equal feedings delivered every hour for 20 hours via an iFEED automatic feeder. After each 20-hour period, there was a four-hour break before feeding started again. All horses also received grass hay equivalent to 2 percent of their body weight.
Researchers performed gastroscopy, where a small camera attached to a long tube is passed through the horse’s nose to give a view of the stomach, on the horses at Day 0 (before starting acclimation to the grain), at 30 days and 60 days.
Researchers used an established grading system to score each horse for two types of gastric ulcers: squamous ulcers,
which appear in the upper region of the stomach, and glandular ulcers, which appear in the lower region of the stomach.
At the start of the study, there was no difference in squamous ulcer scores between the two groups. At the 30- and 60day checks, the scores for the fractionedfed horses had not changed, but scores for the horses on a traditional feeding plan had significantly increased (showing more signs of ulcers).
In addition, at Day 30, the fractionedfed group showed a lower proportion of glandular ulcers than the traditionally fed group. But at Day 60 there was no difference between the two. The team thought this could be due to stress as the horses grew accustomed to their new lodging and feeding regimens. Unfortunately, the team couldn’t continue research because the horses were sold at auction.
The team also evaluated the horses’ weight and body condition score biweekly. These two attributes showed no significant differences between the two groups throughout the study.
In conclusion, the researchers say that the results support the theory that going long periods without eating plays a significant role in the formation of gastric ulcers. Decreasing that time by providing frequent meals—a task that can be aided by automatic feeders—may reduce the incidence of some gastric ulcers.— Sushil Dulai Wenholz
In a recent study with Thoroughbred foals, researchers found that a lack of mineralization (needed to form healthy bones) could cause future issues with hock joints.
Researchers discovered that providing horses with frequent meals—a task that can be aided by automatic feeders, such as the iFEED model shown here—can help reduce the occurrence of gastric ulcers.