Equine Science: Weekly News and Trivia Question - December 4, 2009

Welcome to this week’s Equine Science News blog. For the third week running the equestrian world has been talking lots about Bute and the FEI and earlier this week a shock announcement was made. Catch up on all the latest FEI news here as well as learning about grass sickness, selective breeding, neck anatomy and equine atypical myopathy.

On December 1st, the FEI announced that they would be delaying implementing the new Equine Prohibited Substances List until April 2010, meaning that Bute will still be a prohibited substance in FEI competitions for the next year.

There has been a lot of uproar from various countries following the FEI’s original announcement about their drug-policy change, and it would seem that all the criticism has given the FEI food for thought. According to a statement on the FEI website: “The FEI acknowledges that these concerns are all legitimate and feels that there is clearly a need for further debate on the issue”. The delay in implementing the Equine Prohibited Substances List will now allow “supplementary research to be carried out on the use of NSAIDs in the competition horse”.

The news has certainly been welcomed by various international equestrian organisations. Horse Sport Ireland told Horse & Hound Online that the delay was a “sensible and pragmatic move”.

Further organisations also expressed their concern to Horse & Hound Online about the FEI’s new stance on anti-inflammatory drugs, with Equestrian Australia saying that they “did not ever back the introduction of the list,” and France Galop (the governing body of French horse racing) issuing a statement which said: “A horse that is under treatment must be considered as recovering and not as a horse fit to carry out a sporting performance.”

However, according to Horse & Hound Online the US Equestrian Federation believe that the “introduction of low doses of NSAIDs to be a positive step forward for horse welfare” although they did welcome the delay that the FEI have now implemented.

Onto something different now – many owners have heard of the deadly Grass Sickness Disease, particularly those living in Europe. The disease is still not fully understood, despite almost 100 years of research, but it is thought that a type of toxin found in grass is involved. Now vet Scott Pirie, a senior lecturer in equine medicine at the Royal (Dick) School of Veterinary Studies, Edinburgh discusses the disease in an online video on vetpulse.tv. The video discusses the background to grass sickness and then looks at how important it is to accurately diagnose the disease.

Following on from the topic of grass sickness is another similar disease. Across the Atlantic, the British Equine Veterinary Association are warning people about the disease Atypical Equine Myopathy. This disease, also known as Atypical Equine Myoglobinuria, seems to have a higher prevalence rate this year than previous years. The disease, which has already claimed the life of one horse in Cumbria, is usually recognised by a sudden stiffness in the limbs followed by generalised muscle weakness. Infected horses may also have urine that is black or dark brown and renal failure can occur – initially owners may confuse the condition with colic or laminitis. Young horses in poor condition are particularly prone to this disease that can affect both individuals and groups of horses on the same grazing land. Owners should ensure that their equines are fully up-to-date with their vaccination and worming programs and contact their veterinarians if they are at all concerned that their horse may have any of the symptoms mentioned above.

Another topic in the news this week has been selective breeding – US breeders will soon be able to choose whether they have a filly or a colt when breeding.

From the 2010 season “sexed semen” will be commercially available from a collaboration between the US companies Sexing Technologies and Equine Reproduction Innovations. According to Horse & Hound Online, they will use a machine known as a “flow cytometer” to sort out the chromosomes in the semen to find both female (X), male (Y) and undefined chromosomes. Once the semen has been sorted, artificial insemination can then fertilise the mare.

The procedure has a 93% accuracy rate and it’s thought that the cost will be very expensive – running into the thousands. Whether breeders will think this cost is justified is unknown and in the UK the racing industry, who could probably afford the costs, has already banned artificial insemination in thoroughbred breeding.

Although sexed semen will be commercially available in the US from 2010, there are no plans to extend this to other countries as of yet.

Finally, Mark Andrews over at the Equine Science Update blog has done another great piece reporting on some new research on equine neck anatomy which could prove useful for understanding Wobbler syndrome.

Cervical Vertebral Malformation (CVM), which is commonly known as Wobbler syndrome, is a condition in which horses appear to not know where their limbs are and seem to move with a “wobbly” gait. The condition occurs when the spinal cord has become compressed sometimes as a result of arthritis.

Research now at the Royal Veterinary College has been studying the joints usually affected in CVM by recording the 3D anatomy of the joints involved. The research could prove useful in understanding how best to examine and diagnose suspected Wobbler cases. Read Mark’s full account here.

Now for this week’s trivia question.

Q. Do you know what equine Quittor is?
Check to see if you’re answer’s right by checking out my profile here.

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