UC Davis Performs First PET Scan on a Standing Horse

The University of California Davis School of Veterinary Medicine has successfully used positron emission tomography (PET) on a standing horse.

The equine PET software has been pioneered at UC Davis, beginning in 2015. However, the horses being previously imaged had to be put under anesthetic in order to capture the image. Now, horses can remain standing with only slight sedation.

PET imaging technique shows more insight than just radiography or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). It displays the activity of bone or soft tissue lesions at the molecular level. The equine PET scanner was originally devised from a human brain scanner from Brain Biosciences, Inc. The UC Davis Center for Equine Health (CEH) launched a clinical program using the original human scanner to turn it into a tool to examine horses.

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Photo: Eleanor Kellon

Obese Horses Are the “New Normal”

In the United Kingdom, half of the horses are overweight, according to The Telegraph. Leading equine vets say the rise in equine obesity is due to owners not understanding how to keep their horses healthy, resulting in many animals being overweight, which can lead to other dangerous medical issues, such as laminitis. Experts from the British Equine Veterinary Association (BEVA) report that hundreds of horses are euthanized every year because of laminitis.

Studies examined by David Rendle, a member of BEVA’s ethics and welfare committee, show that around half of all U.K. horses are now overweight. According to the research, Rendle sees no signs of the obesity epidemic slowing down because owners are not capable of determining a healthy weight for their animals.

“Overweight has become normal, and horse owners no longer appreciate what a healthy horse should look like,” says Rendle. “Show horses are often obese, so this is what people aspire to.”

Growing equine girth seems to be an increasing trend for many different types of equines in the U.K. Royal Veterinary College researchers found that as much as 70% of native pony breeds were obese. Yorkshire equine veterinarian Joe Mackinder told Horse and Hound magazine in 2018 that horses admitted to his practice were “progressively fatter and fatter.”

Equine veterinarians say that horses had evolved to lose weight in the winter and gain it back in the spring. However, with improvements in landscaping, horses are able to graze longer on hillsides and moorlands, which stops any natural weight loss.

Using blankets and rugs could also be a cause for the rise in equine obesity, according to the World Horse Welfare Association. The use of blankets allows the horse to easily maintain its body temperature in cool conditions, and thus allows it to maintain its weight. Previously, horses burned calories by using energy in cold weather to stay warm.

Obesity could also be caused by pampering in the winter by owners who view their horses as pets. Experts say those owners tend to overfeed their horses, especially foals, which leads to obesity-related issues.

“We advise owners to monitor their horses’ weight regularly, using a combination of weight taping and body condition or fat scoring,” says Sam Chubbock of the World Horse Welfare Association. Obesity can be prevented with moderate exercise and a strict diet; the key lies in finding a balance between the two.

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Photo: Royal Veterinary College

Study Suggests Laminitis Occurs as Frequently as Colic

New research conducted by the Animal Health Trust in collaboration with Rossdales Equine Hospital reveals that 1 in 10 horses or ponies might develop at least one laminitic episode each year. This occurrence makes laminitis just as common as colic. And just as colic can happen during any season, the study has identified that there is no “safe” period from laminitis, as reported by Phys.org.

The study, which was led by Danica Pollard, a PhD student at the Royal Veterinary College, observed 1,070 horses and ponies in Great Britain, monitoring their health and management over 29 months. The study encourages owners to stay current on preventative measures year-round, even if owners believe the “high-risk” period is over. Owners should also learn the subtle signs of laminitis, especially when it can be life-threatening.

Common signs reported by owners within the study of the afflicted horses include difficulty in turning, a short or stilted gait or lameness at a walk. These symptoms were present in more than 70% of the laminitic episodes. Less than 25% of the affected animals displayed the classically recognized symptoms such as the laminitic stance of weight bearing deeply in the hind legs and divergent hoof rings, a condition in which the rings are wider at the heel than at the toe. Many owners didn’t report a high digital pulse, a symptom that allows owners to identify laminitis much sooner than the physical manifestations of soreness.


March 2019 Issue Contents