Blood Test in Young Foals Might Predict Osteochondrosis

Measurement of osteocalcin (a marker of joint metabolism) in 2-week-old foals might be useful for identifying foals at risk for developing osteochondrosis.

Osteochondrosis (OC) is a developmental orthopedic disease that results from a disruption in the growth of articular cartilage located in specific joints, most frequently the tarsocrural joint in the hock. The exact causes of OC remain unknown, but they are thought to involve a high rate of growth.

While OC lesions can first appear by 5 months of age, some lesions regress while others persist and become clinically relevant by approximately 1 year of age.

Therefore, early detection of at-risk foals would allow owners and veterinarians to institute changes in the foals management or nutrition program to decrease the development of "permanent" OC lesions.

In this study, collaborating researchers from Italy, The Netherlands, and France radiographically examined 39 foals at 5.5 and 11 months of age for evidence of OC lesions. In addition, blood was collected at regular intervals throughout the study (from 2 to 52 weeks of age) to measure various markers of bone and cartilage metabolism, including osteocalcin.

Osteocalcin levels decreased steadily from 2 to 20 weeks of age in all foals. Further, a positive correlation between osteocalcin levels measured at 2 weeks of age and radiographic evidence of OC at both 5.5 and 11 months of age was identified.

These results suggest that measurement of osteocalcin levels at a very early age might be useful for identifying foals at-risk for the development of OC; however, further research is essential to further validate this observation.

The study, "Early changes in biomarkers of skeletal metabolism and their association to the occurrence of osteochondrosis (OC) in the horse" will be published in an upcoming edition of the Equine Veterinary Journal. The abstract is currently available on PubMed.

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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