Is No News, Good News?

While there haven’t been any headlines about the various syndromes that affected a large section of the eastern and mid-western United States this spring, that doesn’t mean that researchers or practitioners aren’t hard at work. Kentucky, with its large and carefully scrutinized mare population, seemed hardest hit by the various problems that included late-gestation abortions, early gestation fetal losses, pericarditis (heart problems), and uveitis (eye problems). However, informal surveys and reports from horse owners and veterinarians in other states seem to point to problems that affected horses from Tennessee into Canada.

The exact cause of these problems, and whether they are actually associated, has not been proven at this time. Researchers are following many leads, but the main theory still seems to be a weather-related trigger that somehow led to the cyanide-containing leaves of black cherry trees being ingested by horses.

Results of a detailed epidemiologic survey of farms in Kentucky are expected to be released soon. Noah Cohen, VMD, PhD, MDH, Dipl. ACVIM, an equine epidemiologist, will be on loan from Texas A&M University to the Kentucky Livestock Disease Diagnostic Center to assist the state in studying the syndromes this spring. A task force created by Gov. Paul Patton and headed by Patton’s Cabinet Secretary Dr. Ed Ford and the Grayson-Jockey Club Research Foundation will have Cohen looking at archived samples at the Diagnostic Center and from private clinics.

A meeting on Aug. 16 of the Kentucky Veterinary Medical Association’s emergency disease group brought together private practitioners, researchers, and state and federal government officials. One of the realities they discussed is that there aren’t standardized evaluations for the substances being researched.

For example, cyanide doesn’t just have one test that can detect it in any substance or structure, explained Dr. Peter Timoney, head of the Gluck Equine Research Center at the University of Kentucky. That means every material (heart, lungs, blood, etc.) that is tested might need a somewhat modified test in order to detect cyanide or one of its metabolites (what cyanide becomes when it is broken down by the body).

Another item discussed by the group is that the problems seen with foal losses this year isn’t a new problem. It has occurred in past years (specifically 1980 and 1981), although not to the extent seen in 2001. The good news of that discussion was that in 1982, practitioners reported no problems with deformed foals or getting mares in foal whether they had been affected by foal loss or not.

Dr. Richard Holder, a practitioner with the Lexington, Ky., firm of Hagyard-Davidson-McGee, sees a tremendous number of pregnant mares each year because of his specialty of sexing fetuses. He said he is no longer seeing dead fetuses or fetuses that are dying.

Holder also is gathering information about what is normal as far as cloudiness of the placental fluids in mares. Based on past experience and studies this year of healthy pregnant mares from overseas, Holder says that there seems to be a normal gestational pattern that involves some degree of cloudiness of the placental fluids. He said in studying pregnant mares from Europe, the same pattern exists. This is something that hasn’t been researched in mares before.

“By fall we will know more,” said Holder, who is continuing to study mares and collect video images and still pictures of his exams.

About the Author

Kimberly S. Brown

Kimberly S. Brown was the Publisher/Editor of The Horse: Your Guide To Equine Health Care from June 2008 to March 2010, and she served in various positions at Blood-Horse Publications since 1980.

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