Florida's Colic Research

Nothing is more agonizing than watching a horse struggle helplessly with colic. Research-ers at the Island Whirl Equine Colic Research Laboratory at the University of Florida's Veterinary Medical Teaching Hospital are working tirelessly to understand the causes of colic and to find ways to prevent and alleviate it. Two of the latest studies investigate acupuncture and Salmonella as they affect gut function.

The Island Whirl laboratory was established in 1989 with an endowment from the late William Harder in memory of his prized Thoroughbred. Alfred Merritt, DVM, MS, director of the laboratory, and Huisheng Xie, DVM, PhD, have been looking at the effect of a specific acupuncture point on the back to relieve pain associated with distention of part of the small intestine. "We are encouraged by the response to this particular point," said Merritt.

The researchers test the study point and a sham point, so each horse is its own control. "Essentially, we're trying to do very controlled studies that are more evidence-based," said Merritt. "A lot of (previous) studies have reported subjective rather than objective data. We have a very controlled model for inducing some short-term discomfort in the horse's gut," he explained.

One culprit that is guilty of causing much abdominal discomfort in the horse each year is Salmonella. Tamara Widenhouse, DVM, the Deedie Wrigley-Hancock fellow, is looking at the various effects of Salmonella, and how antibiotics leave horses vulnerable to Salmonella.

"Salmonella goes beyond the diarrhea business," said Merritt. "We decided to focus on this because in Florida, this is the major cause of infectious enteritis in horses."

Widenhouse believes that when antibiotics are administered to horses to kill "bad" bacteria, good bacteria is killed as well, which upsets the balance in the gut. Under the guidance of Guy Lester, BVMS, PhD, she is looking for the keys to recovering the balance so that fewer horses will suffer digestive upsets as a result of chronic Salmonella infection.

"Once we know more of the genetics that determine how (Salmonella) sets up a chronic infection," said Merritt, "we hopefully will find ways we can block the enteritis from occurring."

To learn more about the studies at Island Whirl Equine Colic Research Laboratory, visit www.vetmed.ufl.edu/Iwecrl/menu.htm.

About the Author

Stephanie L. Church, Editor-in-Chief

Stephanie L. Church, Editor-in-Chief, received a B.A. in Journalism and Equestrian Studies from Averett College in Danville, Virginia. A Pony Club and 4-H graduate, her background is in eventing, and she is schooling her recently retired Thoroughbred racehorse, Happy, toward a career in that discipline. She also enjoys traveling, photography, cycling, and cooking in her free time.

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