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Fat horses face health problems

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However, based on the horses seen routinely in clinical practice at VMRCVM, the research team hypothesized the prevalence of overweight and obese horses was much higher than the reported 5 percent. We thought it was at a level of at least 15 percent, said Dr. Thatcher.

The research team designed a prospective study and conducted it over the course of 60 days from June 19, 2006 through August 17, 2006. They studied 300 horses, ranging from 4 to 20 years old from 114 farms, chosen randomly from over 1,000 animals in the VMRCVMs field service horse population.

The horses were studied between 6 a.m. and 12 noon, prior to any grain or concentrate consumption, which can alter glucose and insulin levels.

Two independent body-conditioning scores (BCS), which assess the amount of fat cover of the horses, were assigned to each animal. The scores range from 1 to 9 and a score of 8 or 9 signifies obesity. Morphometric measurements were also taken to allow the research team to calculate body weight and body mass index (BMI). These measurements include girth circumference, neck circumference, body length, and height.

Each horse was checked for signs of laminitis and blood was drawn to assess glucose and insulin levels as well as other hormones, cytokines, and oxidative biomarkers. A questionnaire was also completed by each horses owner to gather background information on breed, gender, health history, feed, and exercise. Ponies, minis, donkeys, draft breeds, and their crosses were excluded from the study, as were pregnant and lactating mares, and horses undergoing treatment for medical problems.

While laboratory testing and data analysis are still underway, the research team has already made some alarming discoveries.

Fifty-one percent of the horses in the study were found to have a BCS greater than 6. Thirty-two percent of the horses in the study were found to have a BCS of greater than 6
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Contact: Christy Jackson
cljacks@vt.edu
540-231-7239
Virginia Tech
9-Jul-2007


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