Thursday, October 21, 2021

Insights into strangles in the UK

 A new study from the Royal Veterinary College (RVC), analysing laboratory diagnoses of strangles across the UK, paves the way for an improved understanding of the spread and control of strangles to reduce the impact of this devastating disease.

Strangles is a contagious upper respiratory tract infection, caused by the bacterium Streptococcus equi, which can affect horses, ponies and donkeys of any age, breed or sex with younger horses typically more severely affected. It is also one of the most prevalent infectious diseases amongst horses and ponies worldwide, carrying a very high welfare burden with up to 100% of horses in outbreaks becoming affected.


This study, funded by The Horse Trust, brought together an international team from the RVC, the University of Melbourne, jDATA, Intervacc AB, Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute and the British Horseracing Authority. A full report of the work is published in the Veterinary Record.


Researchers analysed data from seven UK diagnostic laboratories between January 2015 and December 2019, finding that 1,617 laboratory diagnoses of strangles were recorded during that time. However, considering the number of potentially undiagnosed horses, the true number of equids affected by strangles is thought to be much higher.


Importantly, the findings of this study begin to quantify the occurrence of strangles within the UK and guide veterinary surgeons in their approach to disease diagnosis. This includes not ruling out a strangles diagnosis when a horse or pony presents with more general clinical signs of nasal discharge, with or without fever, in the absence of abscessation or swelling of the submandibular and retropharyngeal lymph nodes. More generally, the study suggested that the description of ‘classical’ and ‘atypical’ clinical signs should be revised.


The study also provides a valuable resource for UK horse owners in the form of an online tool to identify if strangles outbreaks have occurred in their area, or a region they may be travelling to with their horses. This resource is actively updated – so if a region is currently experiencing higher numbers of strangles diagnoses, owners can stay informed and subsequently heighten their biosecurity and hygiene protocols. This will help to reduce the spread of strangles and ultimately the impact it can have on yards, owners and horses.


This resource is actively updated meaning that if a region is currently experiencing higher numbers of strangles diagnoses, owners can stay informed and subsequently heighten their biosecurity and hygiene protocols. This will help to reduce the spread of strangles and ultimately the impact it can have on yards, owners and horses.


The publication also reinforces the benefit of a united front for strangles research and how through laboratories, veterinary practices and owners working together, we can provide much more detailed insights into the disease, leading towards safeguarding the health of our horses.

Abigail McGlennon, PhD student in the Department of Pathobiology and Population Sciences, Royal Veterinary College, and lead author of the report, said: “Prior to the development of the Surveillance of Equine Strangles network in 2018, there was limited information available about strangles diagnoses in the UK. This publication highlights the prevalence of strangles in the UK and the variation in signs that infected horses show. The results of this five-year surveillance study enable the continued development of evidence-based recommendations within the equine industry to help reduce the spread of strangles and keep our horses healthy and happy.” 


For more details, see the full (open access) article:


Surveillance of strangles in UK horses between 2015 and 2019 based on laboratory detection of Streptococcus equi. 

McGlennon A, Waller A, Verheyen K, Slater J, Grewar J, Aanensen D, Newton R. 

Vet Rec. 2021;e948.


To visit the Surveillance of Strangles website, go to :

Dangers of equestrian activities severely under-appreciated say US researchers.

  A recent study has found that the risk of an injury, requiring hospital admission, is higher for horse riding than for other potentially risky sporting activities, such as football, motor racing, or skiing.

Kevin Mutore and colleagues examined data supplied from level I and II trauma centers to the US National Trauma Data Bank (NTDB), on injuries sustained by adults while horse riding between 2007 and 2016. 


They retrieved details of 45,671 patients with equestrian injuries for this period. Data were incomplete for 20,880 patients, leaving 24,791 for inclusion in the analysis. The average age of those injured was 47, with almost equal proportions of men and women. 


Analysis showed that the most common site of injury was the chest, (37%) followed by arms and legs (26.5%). Head and neck injuries, although occurring less commonly (23%), were the most likely to prove fatal.


Severe neurological damage, classified as a Glasgow Coma Scale (GCS) score of 3–8, was observed in 888 (3.5%) patients. The GCS is a clinical scale used to measure a person's level of consciousness after a brain injury. It ranges from 3 (deep coma) to 15 (normal consciousness.) 


Riders with head and neck injuries were 44 times as likely to die as those with arm/leg injuries, while those with chest and abdominal injuries were around 6 times as likely to do so. 


The researchers point out that the study only included data from patients treated at US trauma centers that reported data to the NTDB. Nevertheless, the findings prompt them to conclude that: “Equestrian-related injuries are a frequently ignored public health issue.”


They go on to say: “When taken together, these data suggest that the dangers of equestrian activities have been severely underappreciated. When controlled for hours of activity, horseback riding resulted in a higher proportion of hospital admission than other higher risk activities like skiing.”


Protective gear can save lives, but is not always worn, they highlight. “Studies have shown that a large fraction of riders involved in equestrian injuries were not wearing helmets at the time of their accident. It stands to reason that raising awareness of the possible injuries and increasing preventive measures to protect against head injuries would significantly reduce mortality.”


They conclude: “We suggest that preventive measures and campaigns should be instituted to highlight safety practices. Implementing the consistent use of personal protective equipment, such as helmets and vests, will provide added protection to all riders (working or leisure) while on horseback. It is also imperative that medical professionals examine patients injured during horseback riding for head and neck injuries as these contribute to the highest mortality.”


Full details of the research are available in the open access paper published in the online journal Trauma Surgery & Acute Care Open.



Mutore K, Lim J, Fofana D, Torres-Reveron A, Skubic JJ

Hearing hoofbeats? Think head and neck trauma: a 10-year NTDB analysis of equestrian-related trauma in the USA

Trauma Surgery & Acute Care Open 2021;vol 6: e000728.

Tuesday, October 19, 2021

Free Equitation Science Conference

There’s just time to register for the International Society for Equitation Science conference, which will be held online on 20th – 22nd October. Thanks to the generosity of the sponsors, it is being offered completely free of charge.


With the theme of Advancing Equestrian Practice to improve Equine Quality of Life, the conference is open to all with an interest in improving the welfare of the horse in its interactions with us. 


It aims to bring together horse riders, pony clubs and riding clubs, coaches and trainers, and equine students as well as academics, researchers and scientists to show how using evidence-informed approaches can advance equestrian practice and improve equine quality of life. 


For more details, see:

Thursday, October 14, 2021

Hendra virus found in flying foxes across Australia

Scientists at CSIRO, Australia’s national science agency, have identified a new type of Hendra virus inflying foxes. The findings have been published in Virology Journal.

Hendra virus (HeV) causes lethal disease outbreaks in horses and humans. Flying foxes (fruit bats) provide a wildlife reservoir for the virus. Hendra virus can be transmitted from flying foxes to horses, and from horses to people. 


Previous studies have found the virus in flying foxes in Queensland and parts of New South Wales. They suggested that the black and the spectacled flying foxes were the primary carriers of Hendra virus. 


After monitoring flying fox samples from 2013-2021, researchers at CSIRO’s Australian Centre for Disease Preparedness (ACDP) found the new genetic type (designated HeV-g2)  in grey-headed flying foxes in Victoria and South Australia, and in the little red flying fox in Western Australia. 


The new genetic type was first detected in a flying fox sample from 2013, but with technology available at the time the researchers could not fully analyse its genome sequence to confirm its identity and understand its significance.


By piecing together the new virus’ genome from several flying fox samples since then using the latest technology, they discovered it was indeed a new type of Hendra virus. Ninety-eight flying foxes tested negative to the original Hendra virus, but 11 were found to carry genetic material indicative of HeV-g2.


The findings show that all areas in Australia where flying-foxes live in contact with horses are at risk of Hendra virus spilling over into the equine (and human) populations.

CSIRO scientist Dr Kim Halpin said spillover of the disease from flying foxes to horses has still only been reported in Queensland and New South Wales.


“However, because Hendra Virus Genotype 2 is so genetically similar to the original Hendra virus, there is a potential risk to horses wherever flying foxes are found in Australia,” Dr Halpin said.


“It’s important to note that Hendra has never been reported to spread directly from flying foxes to humans – it’s always been transmitted from infected horses to humans. We expect this new genetic type would behave the same way.”


"And given the similarities, while more research is needed, we expect the existing Hendra virus vaccine for horses should work against this new type too” she added. “This finding really underscores the importance of research into flying foxes – it's crucial to helping us understand and protect Australians against the viruses they can carry.”


For more details, see:


A new Hendra virus genotype found in Australian flying foxes

Jianning Wang, Danielle E. Anderson, Kim Halpin, Xiao Hong, Honglei Chen, Som Walker, Stacey Valdeter, Brenda van der Heide, Matthew J. Neave, John Bingham, Dwane O’Brien, Debbie Eagles, Lin-Fa Wang and David T. Williams

Virology Journal 2021 18:197

Friday, October 08, 2021

Assisted reproductive techniques: online collection

Assisted reproductive techniques are becoming more common in equine breeding, not least within the sport horse world. The Equine Veterinary Journal (EVJ) is sharing the latest knowledge on assisted reproductive techniques (ARTs) through a special virtual collection that is free to view until 27 December 2021.


While the main reason for developing the ARTs was their potential to accelerate genetic improvement by allowing more offspring to be produced from the best stallions and/or mares, early uptake in practice has been biased towards their capacity to salvage the breeding career of valuable horses suffering from persistent sub-fertility. Editor Tom Stout and guest editor Huw Griffiths have brought together a collection of 14 selected articles published recently in EVJ that have contributed to the advance of equine ARTs. 

Photo of an oocyte immediately after sperm injection. The sperm can be seen in the middle of the oocyte. The small round ball at the top of the oocyte is the first polar body - showing that the oocyte is mature and ready for fertilization

“While some ERT techniques such as embryo transfer and in vitro production are technically complex and not yet optimised, they have proven to be powerful techniques for resolving sub- fertility,” said Tom Stout. “Further studies into factors limiting their success may not only lead to future improvements but also yield information useful to tackling specific causes of sub-fertility in mares or stallions used for natural mating or AI. This collection shares current knowledge.”


Ensuring that mating or artificial insemination (AI) take place close to the time of ovulation is a central part of successful breeding management. Several articles cover aspects of ensuring sperm and egg meet at the optimal time and in optimal conditions. Another discusses the challenges of creating an appropriate environment for early embryo development. 


In vitro production (IVP) has only become commercially viable in equine practice during the past 10 years. Parts of the collection cover the development of IVP and some of the obstacles encountered including incidences of monozygotic multiple pregnancies and potential problems with the mare of advanced age. 


An advantage of IVP is that the embryos are amenable to cryopreservation with no appreciable difference in pregnancy rates between freshly transferred and cryopreserved ICSI embryos. Several articles discuss methods of cryopreservation and vitrification protocols.

“As our knowledge progresses so does our capacity to use ARTs to best effect, to preserve important lineages, reduce inherited disease risks and enhance welfare,” said Professor Celia Marr, Editor of the EVJ.

“This collection makes for invaluable reading, not only for those working in equine reproduction but for those vets who have a general interest in the continued advancement of science and the inextricable and growing links ART has to successful equine breeding.”

The virtual issue will be free to view until 27 December 2021, and can be found at:

Wednesday, October 06, 2021

Invitation to participate in Equine Cushing’s blue light research

Researchers at University College Dublin are collaborating with researchers at the University of Kentucky’s Gluck Equine Research Centre in a large-scale study to investigate the effects of blue light treatment in horses with PPID (Pituitary pars intermedia dysfunction; equine Cushing’s disease) over a 12-month period.  


The research team is led by Dr. Barbara Anne Murphy, Head of Equine Science within the School of Agriculture and Food Science at University College Dublin (UCD) in close collaboration with Dr. Amanda Adams at the Gluck Centre. 


The team at UCD are looking for owners of PPID horses/ponies that meet a specific set of criteria to investigate if blue light treatment can influence the symptoms of this debilitating condition of older horses. 


Suitable participants will be randomly assigned to either treatment (fitted with an Equilume light mask) or control (no additional light exposure) groups. However, all will receive a receive a blue light mask (Value: c€700/$700) for assisting with the project, either at the beginning, or the end of the study, depending on whether they are selected for the treatment or the control group.


The researchers explain that the control group is as important as the treatment group and will allow the collection of valuable data related to the seasonal changes in symptoms of PPID horses. The data collected will contribute significantly to knowledge of how PPID horses’ coat condition is affected throughout the year, and the results will help with the future management of this important condition.


A limited number of horses/or ponies will be included in each treatment group, and the research team are looking to recruit the most suitable participants.


If you own or manage a horse or pony diagnosed with PPID, and which displays hypertrichosis (long curly hair coat), you can complete a short questionnaire to see if you are eligible to participate. Both medicated (e.g. Pergolide) and unmedicated horses/ponies are suitable. 


Sinéad Parmantier, a Master’s student at UCD, and one of the research team, explains: “We have a strict set of criteria for selecting participants to allow our study to be as scientifically rigorous as it can be.”


She adds: “Even if an owner’s horse is not selected for the study, the information they provide about how their horse is managed will help greatly with improving our understanding of this important condition in older horses/ponies. They will also be asked if they would like to be kept informed of the results by providing an email. “ 


It is important to note that participation requires the monthly collection of hair samples from your horse/pony, the submission of photographs and the completion of bi-monthly online questionnaires. 


Follow this link to complete the questionnaire if you own or manage a horse/pony with PPID and are interested in joining the study:


Participant applications will be accepted until Friday, October 22nd.

Monday, September 27, 2021

Switching from racehorse to therapy horse

 How do you turn a highly tuned racehorse into a calm therapy horse? What characteristics do you look for to identify those horses suited to a new career in equine assisted therapy? 

Equine Assisted Therapy (EAT) could include work with a diverse group of people, from veterans and disabled children to those struggling with mental health issues.


New research, led by academics at the University of Bristol’s Veterinary School, will examine the selection, training, and welfare of thoroughbred horses as they retire from racing and retrain to become therapy horses.


The three-year PhD study, run in collaboration with Racing to Relate, aims to develop a recognised global welfare standard for former racehorses who are moving into Equine Assisted Therapy. It is hoped this will help the racing industry improve welfare support for off-track racehorses going into a career in EAT. 


Little research has been carried out so far on the welfare of horses within EAT programmes, and especially on the impact it may have on their wellbeing. 


This new project will analyse the current selection and training methods within the sector and identify specific characteristics of the thoroughbred that are suited to EAT. It will also explore details of the life and routine of equines within equine assisted therapy programmes, and consider welfare outcomes for both the horses and the people who work with them.


The research, being funded by the John Pearce Foundation, is thought to be the first of its kind to study EAT across many countries.  It will look at practices in the UK, USA, France and Ireland, to understand the impact of EAT on the horses.


Claire Neveux, Bristol Vet School PhD student for the project, said: "I have worked with thoroughbreds for about 20 years, mainly with broodmares and young horses, and I have always been amazed by their high reactivity and sensitivity. I'm also fascinated by the human-horse relationship. I had a few opportunities to participate in Equine Assisted Therapy programmes as an intern during my graduate studies. That's why, when I met Jennifer Twomey from Racing to Relate, I took the opportunity to be part of this pioneering and collaborative project, and I'm thrilled to contribute to this research. I'm convinced that a better understanding of the thoroughbred personality traits and suitability of horses for EAT is essential for equine and human welfare."


For more details, see:

Sunday, September 26, 2021

Equine rehabilitation survey

Which practical skills and knowledge are most useful for a lay individual (non-veterinarian) in the equine rehabilitation industry?

Researchers at the College of Agriculture, Health, and Natural Resources at the University of Connecticut have launched a survey to assess industry needs in equine rehabilitation management. 


Sarah Reed, PhD, associate professor of animal science, who is leading the research said:

“The field of equine sports medicine and rehabilitation is rapidly expanding, and there are increasing opportunities for non-veterinarians to operate equine rehabilitation facilities. However, throughout the United States, there are limited educational opportunities for undergraduate students to prepare for these high potential careers. The goal of the study is to determine what practical skills and theoretical knowledge are deemed most useful for employment in this industry, so we can build a curriculum to meet these needs.”

The survey should take less than 10 minutes to complete, and can be found here:

Do horses recognise themselves in mirrors?

Recognising that the individual appearing in the mirror in front of you is actually you is considered to be a sign of self-
awareness (known as “Mirror self-recognition” or MSR).

Scientists can investigate this behaviour by using a “mark test”. A coloured (visible) or colourless (invisible) mark is placed on the face – somewhere that can only be seen by the animal looking at a reflection in a mirror.  Then they watch to see if the subject pays more attention (touching or scratching) to the part of the body with the visible mark than it does to the part with the invisible mark. If it does, this suggests the animal recognizes its reflection.


Mirror self-recognition is rare in animals other than apes but has been reported in dolphins and Asian elephants.


Recent research by researchers in Italy found evidence of self-recognition in horses. The study, by Paolo Baragli of the University of Pisa, and colleagues, used the “mark test” to investigate horses’ response to their reflection.


Fourteen horses took part in the experiment. The research team drew a cross shape on the horses’ cheeks using either coloured or colourless ultrasound gel and compared the horse’s response.


The researchers wanted to know if the horses were more interested in the coloured visible marks than in the clear invisible ones.


They found that the horses spent about five times longer scratching their faces in front of the mirror when they had a visible mark compared with one made with a colourless marker.


The research team concluded that it wasn’t the sensation of the marker gel on the skin that prompted the horses to scratch, but rather that they scratched because they could see the coloured mark. 


They concluded that the horses saw the marks in the mirror, understood that those marks were on their own faces, and were trying to remove them. In other words, they recognized their reflections.


For more details, see:


Paolo Baragli, Chiara Scopa, Veronica Maglieri & Elisabetta Palagi 

If horses had toes: demonstrating mirror self-recognition at group level in Equus caballus. 

Animal Cognition.

Paolo Baragli, Chiara Scopa, Veronica Maglieri & Elisabetta Palagi 

Animal Cognition (2021) vol  24, pages 1099–1108


DOI: 10.1007/s10071-021-01502-7 


See also this article in the Conversation:

Irish horse census on the horizon


The first Irish annual equine census has been announced. Anyone keeping horses will be required to complete a census return.  


“The undertaking of this first equine census in November 2021 is one of a series of measures I propose to initiate to support the welfare of equidae” said Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Charlie McConalogue.  “It is also in keeping with my commitment to review and enhance the equine identification and traceability system”


A profile of all equines present on a holding on that date will be created on the Department’s Animal Identification and Movement (AIM) system, which houses the central equine database. 

Equine census details will be submitted online by equine keepers via Keepers who do not already have an account must register at to obtain personal login details to submit their census information. 


“The census will provide important information in the event of an equine disease outbreak, in addressing public health concerns and in dealing with lost, straying or stolen horses.”

For more details, see:

Saturday, September 25, 2021

Equine Seminar Series from Cornell University

Cornell’s Equine Hospital has announced a series of equine seminars to run from October to December.

The monthly talks (on Zoom) cover important equine health and management topics and are free to attend and open to the public.


The topic for the first seminar presented by Dr Tate Morris on October 19, is “The Colic Workup Explained”.

More details:

Monday, September 20, 2021

Thoracic asymmetry in ridden horses

 Muscle asymmetry in the thoracic region has implications for saddle fitting. If the muscle on one side of the withers is more developed than the other, this will affect saddle fit, potentially causing pain and discomfort. 

A study, led by assistant professor Dr. Katrina Merkies, at the University of Guelph, Ontario, Canada looked at muscular symmetry at the withers. 


Undergraduate students in the Department of Animal Biosciences, Julia Alebrand, Bethany Harwood,  Katharine Labarge and Laura Scott conducted a retrospective study of  490 horses. They studied withers measurements, taken with a flexible withers tracing tool, that had been recorded by a saddle fitting company.


Horses of various breeds (from Arabs and Thoroughbreds to stocky Warmbloods and Drafts) and a range of disciplines (dressage, hunter/jumper, recreational pursuits) were included in the study.


They found that almost 60% of horses had more muscle on the left side. 


In this population of horses, wither measurements were not significantly affected by horse breed, age, sex, height or level of training. Rider age, gender, height, weight and level of training did not affect wither measurements either.


The work is reported in Comparative Exercise Physiology. The authors report that horses in their study were asymmetric in their thoracic structure with most being larger on their left side than the right. They suggest that this asymmetry may be due to genetics, environment, or training. Importantly, it should be considered when fitting a saddle to the horse.


For more details see:


Investigation into thoracic asymmetry in ridden horses

K. Merkies; J. Alebrand; B. Harwood; K. LaBarge; L. Scott.

Comparative Exercise Physiology (2020), Vol 16, 1, pp. 55-62(8)


To find out more about the study, watch a video interview with Dr. Merkies

Sunday, September 19, 2021

Infectious disease surveillance service

The Horserace Betting Levy Board (HBLB) has announced steps towards re-establishing on a long-term basis the essential equine infectious disease surveillance provision that had been performed by the Animal Health Trust (AHT) until its closure in July 2020.

Acting on the recommendations of an industry-wide committee set up to assess options for the future, HBLB has concluded an agreement from August 2021 with Rossdales Ltd to provide the diagnostic microbiology testing capacity, in conjunction with the epidemiological surveillance and monitoring unit that will now be based at the University of Cambridge Veterinary School.

The former AHT team, headed by Dr Richard Newton, will be employed by Cambridge University under the new agreement and will continue to respond to disease outbreak incidents and to produce daily updates on infectious disease reports worldwide for the benefit of the health of all horses, Thoroughbred and non-Thoroughbred.  

Dr Alastair Foote, director of Rossdales Laboratories, added: “We are delighted to have been awarded the tender, and to be able to provide continuity of the former AHT services that were critical to the equine industry, maintaining essential diagnostic testing and surveillance work.  Our recent major investment in new laboratory facilities at our Newmarket site has meant we have been able to rapidly accommodate the required testing requirements, with new tissue culture and virus isolation facilities, and we look forward to working alongside the surveillance and research team at Cambridge.”

For more details, see:

Thursday, August 26, 2021

Measuring eye temperature with thermography

The measurement of eye temperature by Infra-red thermography (IRT) is affected by endogenous and environmental factors and does not relate to rectal temperature, a recent study has found. 

The maximal eye temperature (MaxET) measured with IRT has been extensively used in equine research. It is a popular technique as it is non-invasive and does not require direct contact with the individual.


A study, by Anna Jannson and colleagues, published in the journal Physiology and Behavior, investigated factors influencing eye temperature in horses when measured using infra- red thermography (IRT) under field conditions.


The research team took 791 maximal eye temperatures (MaxET) measurements from 32 horses in Sweden in five different months and on five farms over a 12 month period.


They found that in horses observed at rest in their home environment, MaxET is affected by endogenous (sex and breed) and environmental factors (farm, location, and month of the year). MaxET shows no relationship to rectal temperature.


The authors point out that these findings have relevance in both clinical and research settings. 


“This indicates that eye temperature does not appear to be a sensitive method to monitor for example fever, where rectal temperature is traditionally used.”


They add “endogenous (sex and breed) and environmental variation between months were major factors influencing eye temperature and should be considered in the modelling and design of future field experiments.”




For more details, see:


An investigation into factors influencing basal eye temperature in the domestic horse (Equus caballus) when measured using infrared thermography in field conditions

Anna Jansson, Gabriella Lindgren , Brandon D Velie , Marina Solé.

Physiol Behav (2021);228:113218

 doi: 10.1016/j.physbeh.2020.113218

Photo by Anna Jannson et al (CC by 4.0)

Wednesday, August 25, 2021

Feral equids dig wells that benefit others

Research shows that wells dug by feral donkeys and horses benefit other species and the environment.


Erik Lundgren and others studied the behaviour of feral equids in the Sonoran desert in the south-western United States. A report of the work has been published in the journal Science.


They found that feral horses and donkeys dig their own wells, which are sometimes up to two metres deep. The wells provide benefits for other species and lead to an increase in biodiversity in the surrounding area.

As part of their research,  Erick Lundgren and his colleagues monitored four separate streams in part of the Sonoran desert in Arizona, using camera traps to observe the activity around the wells.

Feral donkey (left and horse digging for water. Photo (c) Erick Lundgren 

The streams usually fill with groundwater but dry up in the summer. The research team surveyed each stream every few weeks over three summers and found that horses and donkeys in the area dig wells there to access the groundwater. 


“It’s a very hot, dry desert and you’ll get these pretty magical spots where suddenly there is surface water,” said Lundgren.

"The donkey wells kept water in the system. And these features were used by pretty much every species you could picture, including some surprising ones like black bears, that we didn't expect to see in the desert." 


Apart from the donkeys and horses, the team saw 59 other vertebrate species at the wells, 57 of which were recorded drinking from the wells. 

Other species that they caught on camera visiting the wells included mule deer, bobcats, Woodhouse's scrub jay and javelinas.

The team even spotted some river tree species sprouting from abandoned wells, indicating they also serve a role as plant nurseries.

The researchers also found some riparian tree species (ie those that grow alongside water courses) sprouting from abandoned wells, indicating a wider environmental benefit.

For more details, see: 

Equids engineer desert water availability

Erick J. Lundgren, Daniel Ramp, Juliet C. Stromberg, Jianguo Wu, Nathan C. Nieto (deceased), Martin Sluk, Karla T. Moeller, Arian D. Wallach

Science  (2021) Vol 372, Issue 6541, pp. 491-495

DOI: 10.1126/science.abd6775

Tuesday, August 24, 2021

Effects of lockdown on horses and owners

 The impact of the COVID-19 lockdown on horses, owners and people working with them, has been
studied in new research.

The work was conducted at Scotland’s Rural College (SRUC) in collaboration with the Waltham Petcare Science Institute, during the lockdown restrictions imposed by the pandemic.


It showed that the coronavirus lockdown had a negative impact on the mental health and wellbeing of horse owners. It also highlighted the need for guidelines on care of horses and ponies at risk of obesity and laminitis during such restrictions.


The researchers explored how horse owners and those working with horses were affected by challenges brought about by the Covid-19 lockdown.


The study questioned 22 members of the equestrian community in Aberdeenshire, including horse owners, equine veterinarians, and farriers, as well as two welfare centre managers in England. A report of the work is published in the journal Animals.


Findings from the interviews indicate that pandemic-related obstacles to communication and limitations on horse owner interaction with their animals were sources of distress and frustration for interviewees.


The report also highlighted the stress placed on equine veterinarians who could be at risk of overwork and burnout as they managed their responsibility to protect public health during emergency scenarios such as the pandemic.


However, the study also identified several positive outcomes where the equine community undertook action to help overcome financial stresses and social isolation.


Ashley Ward, PhD student and lead author of the report, said: “From this study, we have been able to better understand the importance of human-animal interactions and the role that horses played in lessening the detrimental impacts of isolation and anxiety associated with uncertainty around lockdown.


She added: “It is also of note that the pro-social actions undertaken by individuals to benefit the community had the potential to improve the wellbeing of those undertaking the activities - as well as the community they sought to benefit.


“It is hoped that such information will promote action within the industry to protect the mental health and wellbeing of its community, using actions which combat the issues raised in this research.”


In a related study, published in the journal PLoS ONE, the research team assessed the impact of the pandemic on the management of horses and ponies susceptible to laminitis.


Their findings suggested that recommendations for supporting the management needs of horses under reduced supervision were not clearly defined, or were not sufficiently disseminated, across the equine industry.


“We discovered that lockdown-associated factors had the potential to compromise the welfare of horses and ponies at risk of obesity and laminitis,” said Ashley Ward. “These included: disparate information and guidance, difficulties enacting public health measures in yard environments, and horses having reduced exercise during the pandemic.


“Our conclusion was that guidelines should be developed for the care of horses and ponies at risk through collaborative input from veterinary and welfare experts. This would help to reduce the negative impacts of future lockdown events in the UK.”


For more details, see:


The Human Aspect of Horse Care: How the COVID-19 Pandemic Impacted the Wellbeing of Equestrian Industry Stakeholders 

Ward A, Stephen K, Argo C, Watson C, Harris P, Neacsu M, Russell W, Grove-White D, Morrison P. 

Animals 2021, 11(8), 2163



COVID-19 impacts equine welfare: Policy implications for laminitis and obesity. 

Ward AB, Stephen K, Argo CM, Harris PA, Watson CA, Neacsu M, et al. (2021) 

PLoS ONE 16(5): e0252340.

Thursday, August 19, 2021

Donkey medicine and welfare: free information

Despite their similarities to horses, donkeys differ in significant respects.

Recent years have seen an increase in research into the biology and disease susceptibility of this stoic equid. Now to help spread this knowledge, the Equine Veterinary Journal (EVJ) and Equine Veterinary Education (EVE) have collaborated to produce a virtual collection of articles on donkey medicine and welfare. The collection is free to view here until 29 October 2021.


The virtual collection addresses the previous shortage of pathophysiological information, with articles on pharmacology, diagnostics, disease prevalence and management practices relating to donkeys as working, companion and production animals.


“Economic, cultural, social, religious and medical factors have shaped the use of the donkey around the world,” said Karen Rickards, who edited the virtual collection along with Ramiro Toribio. 


“Primarily used for physical work, in some societies they are sources of nutrition or of non-traditional medicines whilst in others they are companion animals and providers of support for human mental and physical well-being. Animal welfare continues to be the major concern with donkeys and mules around the world, and veterinarians can have a positive impact in different ways.”


Preventative healthcare is addressed with the study of a companion population of donkeys in the UK and encourages clinicians to focus on client education, promotion of vaccination, regular dental care, strategic parasite control programmes and weight management.


Understanding the key welfare issues affecting donkey populations around the world has been an integral part of the work of non-government organisations.  One paper describes the use of the Equid Assessment Research and Scoping (EARS) tool for working equids in Mexico. 


Owner involvement in disease awareness and knowledge of disease presentation and risk are important aspects of donkey care. Two papers show how enhancing owner awareness and education can act as starting points to develop preventative health care programmes and promote community-led involvement in disease surveillance and control. 


Several papers address decision-making around treatment options, emphasising the need for a good understanding of the pharmacology of the available therapeutic agents in relation to donkeys and the pathophysiology of the diseases, as well as the value of pain assessment and control.


Another important aspect of disease detection and management is the availability of accurate diagnostics. Several papers address aspects of diagnostic testing, with emphasis on the caution that must be taken when extrapolating from horses because of the minimal data relating specifically to donkeys.


Donkeys are often described as silent carriers of, or as being more resistant to, infectious agents. Two articles demonstrate that they can in fact develop severe clinical signs when exposed to certain known equine pathogens, raising the importance of surveillance, accurate diagnosis, outbreak management, disease control and clear communication and education.


With biosecurity a key component of disease control, the introduction of new donkeys to existing populations and the proximity of large numbers of donkeys on intensive donkey breeding farms, are discussed as risk factors for disease introduction and spread. 


Less common conditions in donkeys as well as awareness of zoonotic risk are addressed, emphasising the value of owner-driven reporting as part of a disease surveillance and control programme to inform decision making on relevant interventions. 


“This impressive collection shines a spotlight on the important advances that have been made to donkey medicine and welfare and helps us to identify the research gaps yet to be filled,” said Professor Celia Marr, Editor of the EVJ.


“By sharing this work, we aim to improve disease prevention and enhance the welfare of donkeys around the world as well as highlight the continued importance of owner education and improve the public perception of this enduring species.”


The virtual issue will be free to view until 29 October 2021.



Thursday, July 29, 2021

Genetic defect associated with painful eye condition identified

An interdisciplinary team of scientists and clinicians, led by Dr. Rebecca Bellone at the University of California Davis Veterinary Genetics Laboratory, has identified a genetic variant associated with distichiasis in Friesian horses. 

Distichiasis, is a condition affecting the eye in which aberrant hairs grow from abnormal positions along the eyelid. These hairs rub on the cornea, causing irritation and pain. Severe cases may progress to corneal ulceration, leading to vision impairment and even loss of the eye. 


The condition can be treated, by removing the offending hairs, for example with thermocautery. However, the condition has been reported to recur in up to 50% cases.


Friesians are by far the most likely breed to be affected. They are known for being relatively highly inbred and prone to a range of genetic diseases. This knowledge prompted the research team to investigate the genetic basis of the condition. 


For a start, researchers traced the family trees of affected horses which provided evidence of an autosomal recessive mode of inheritance. Then they conducted a Genome Wide Association Study comparing samples from 14 affected and 38 normal animals. This narrowed down the search to a section of the ECA13 chromosome.


Investigating the ECA13 further with Whole Genome Sequencing, they identified a large chromosome deletion between two genes that was strongly associated with distichiasis. 


Eighteen out of 19 affected Friesian horses were homozygous for (had two copies of) the distichiasis associated variant. This pointed to a recessive mode of inheritance.


However, seven out of 75 horses with no evidence of distichiasis were also homozygous for the variant. This led the research team to suggest that distichiasis in Friesians appears to be a trait with incomplete penetrance. (That is, the condition may be expressed in only some individuals that have two copies of the variant, while some homozygous individuals may never show signs of the condition.)


To see if the variant occurs in other breeds, they tested samples from 955 horses of 54 different breeds and identified the deletion in only 11 non-Friesians, all of which only had one copy of the variant.


"Given the strong association and the frequency of the variant in the population of Friesian horses we evaluated, testing for this variant can be used to avoid crosses that can produce animals homozygous for the variant," said Erin Hisey, the UC Davis veterinary student who was the first author on this study. 


Additionally, the results of this test can be used clinically. "Those horses that test homozygous for this variant should be evaluated for abnormal lashes to potentially provide clinical intervention prior to the development of irreversible corneal damage," said Dr. Hanneke, co-author of the study and equine surgeon with a focus in ophthalmology.


For more details, see:


Whole genome sequencing identified a 16 kilobase deletion on ECA13 associated with distichiasis in Friesian horses. 

Hisey, E.A., Hermans, H., Lounsberry, Z.T. et al. 

BMC Genomics 21, 848 (2020).