Developmental Orthopedic Disease (DOD) and Mare Nutrition

A seminar for veterinarians on developmental orthopedic disease (DOD) in horses and ways it can be controlled through feeding and management practices was presented by Dan Burke, PhD, director of equine nutrition for Buckeye Nutrition, on Feb. 9 in Lexington, Ky.

"DOD is a broad term representing a number of clinical syndromes affecting the musculoskeletal system of the horse during growth and development," began Burke. "These syndromes include epiphysitis, osteochondrosis, angular limb deformities, flexural deformities, and cervical compressive myelopathy or 'wobbler syndrome.' "

DOD can result from problems related to nutrition, exercise, hormones, genetics, trauma, or a combination of any and all of these, he said. "There's a group of horses out there that can eat straw and Cheerios and will never get DOD, but then there are those with excellent management that will get DOD no matter what you do," noted Burke. "But if (mares and foals) are fed properly, you can make a significant dent in DOD incidence in your herd."

Burke emphasized addressing the nutrition of the pregnant mare, the lactating mare, and the foal. He said we often forget the foal is growing and developing while inside the mare, and the mare's nutrition during pregnancy can play just as large a role in DOD occurrence as it does when the foal is on the ground and nursing. Burke suggested assessing pregnant and lactating mares' diets to find excess energy and vitamin and nutrient imbalances instead of just checking blood levels.

"We typically overfeed pregnant mares and underfeed lactating mares," said Burke. "Keep (gestating) mares at a 5 or 6 (body condition score), and you are less likely to have malpositioning issues if the mare isn't obese, as well as decrease DOD incidence."

If you have a foal suffering from DOD, Burke said to reduce grain intake and only feed the foal minerals and a low starch/protein feed (he cited Buckeye Nutrition's Gro N' Win), reduce the horse's weight, eliminate forced exercise, allow for stall rest, hand walk, and give minimal turnout. Burke also said to work with your veterinarian to develop an appropriate DOD management plan.

About the Author

Marcella M. Reca Zipp, MS

Marcella Reca Zipp, M.S., is a former staff writer for The Horse. She is completing her doctorate in Environmental Education and researching adolescent relationships with horses and nature. She lives with her family, senior horse, and flock of chickens on an island in the Chain O'Lakes.

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