'Activity Monitors' for Assessing Pain in Arthritic Horses Discussed

Activity monitors, which are small pedometerlike instruments, have been used in some scientific studies in horses, but they are still not widely used. Scientists have asked whether we're missing the boat or overestimating the applicability of this technology.

In a recent study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, Dorothy Cimino Brown, DVM, MSCE, Dipl. ACVS, and colleagues from the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia found that a watch-sized activity monitor capable of continuously measuring intensity, frequency, and duration of movement for extended periods and in all directions can be used to document activity in dogs with osteoarthritis (OA).

Specifically, the activity monitors were used to measure the total activity count in 70 dogs with OA that either were or were not treated with the non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug carprofen. Dogs treated with carprofen had a significant increase in total activity count, whereas dogs in the placebo group had no change in total activity count during the study period.

According to Kevin K. Haussler, DVM, DC, PhD, an assistant professor at the Orthopaedic Research Center at Colorado State University, "This technology has been used in horses in several papers to assess spontaneous activity of horses in the stall after orthopedic surgery or associated with dietary changes. Activity monitors may have good applications to assess pain behavior and impaired mobility in horses associated with colic or laminitis, as examples."

Another potential application of this technology is horses with OA.

Haussler explained, "Simple pedometers designed for human runners or walkers may be applied to horses; however, the instruments often only measure motion or acceleration in one direction. Accelerometers used for research purposes often measure three-dimensional movements, which are much more accurate."

The activity monitor used in Brown’s study has been used in equine clinical trials; however, Richard Rushton, DVM, Sr. Account Manager at Philips Home Healthcare Solutions stated, "To my knowledge the Actical activity monitor has not yet been studied in horses with OA."

Brown, D.C., Boston, R.C., Farrar, J.T. Use of an activity monitor to detect response to treatment in dogs with osteoarthritis. JAVMA 2010;237:66-70.

About the Author

Stacey Oke, DVM, MSc

Stacey Oke, MSc, DVM, is a practicing veterinarian and freelance medical writer and editor. She is interested in both large and small animals, as well as complementary and alternative medicine. Since 2005, she's worked as a research consultant for nutritional supplement companies, assisted physicians and veterinarians in publishing research articles and textbooks, and written for a number of educational magazines and websites.

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