By Ray Paulick -- Politicians should look beyond the false image of the breeding industry to the rank-and-file horse farmers.
Dr. Claire Latimer is a specialist in veterinary ophthalmology, the study of animal eyes. Since May 1, she has seen a surprising increase of eye problems in horses in Central Kentucky that fall into two distinct groups.
The Republic of Ireland has lifted its prohibition on British horses that travel there in a move that should help both the breeding and racing industries. It appears British horses, previously restricted because of the foot-and-mouth outbreak, will be able to compete in the Irish One Thousand (Ire-I) and Two Thousand Guineas (Ire-I) at the Curragh May 26-27.
In the industry-wide meeting at Keeneland on Thursday, May 10, zearalenone, a kind of mycotoxin, was put forth as a possible cause of the recent rash of late-term stillbirths, critical foals, and early fetal loss. But while experts seem to be in agreement it is a good possibility that zearalenone in particular is indicated, they aren't ruling out other possible causes or saying only that one mycotoxin is the sole instigator of illness. Whatever the cause, the effects are cumulative.
At the industry-wide meeting on Thursday, May 10, Dr. Steve Jackson, an equine nutrition consultant and owner of Bluegrass Equine Nutrition, and Dr. Jimmy Henning, an extension forage specialist at the University of Kentucky's College of Agriculture, both mentioned that ergot or alkaloid types of toxins were being sought in the testing of pastures. In discussing the situation further with Jackson on May 11, he said that Merck's Veterinary Manual had a good explanation of ergotism in other livestock.
Dr. Rhonda Rathgeber, a veterinarian with Hagyard-Davidson-McGee veterinary firm in Lexington, Ky., specializes in performance horse problems. She said in the past 10 days, she has seen "a lot of riding horses lame with an associated colitis (inflammation of the large or small colon). I've talked to one other vet who has seen the same thing," she said. It is unknown whether this increase in laminitis is associated with the other problems currently running through the horse industry and thought to be caused by mycotoxins.
Kentucky's entire delegation of U.S. Senators and Congressmen has written a letter to Secretary of Agriculture Ann M. Veneman alerting her of the foal/fetal loss syndrome in Kentucky and asking for assistance from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
While the numbers are nowhere near those associated with early fetal loss and late gestation pregnancy loss, there is a pattern appearing with horses developing pericarditis (fluid in the sac around the heart), said Dr. Doug Byars, a specialist in internal medicine at Hagyard-Davidson-McGee's medicine unit in Lexington, Ky. At the industry meeting at Keeneland on Thursday, May 10, Byars reported that there had been 20 cases of pericarditis at Haygard's and Rood and Riddle Equine Hospital in the past week.
As the breeding season winds to a close, you expect to see fewer foals being born. Therefore, there are fewer chances for the current syndrome to affect late-gestation mares. It also seems, however, that the loss of late-term gestations--and early fetal loss--could be slowing overall.
Hunter Valley Thoroughbred breeders are increasingly concerned regarding a continuing ban on Thoroughbred imports from Europe imposed by the Australian quarantine and Inspection Service (AQIS) as a result of the foot-and-mouth outbreak in Europe.
Following is the text of the presentation by Dr. Tom Riddle, of Rood & Riddle Equine Hospital in Lexington, Ky., at Thursday's Late Term Abortions and Early Fetal Loss Syndrome information session at Keeneland. Riddle was the first veterinarian to focus on the early fetal loss problem
A guide to some of the technical or scientific terms being used to describe the current foal/fetal loss syndrome
The old-timers say Kentucky is horse country because of its soil. What's now growing on that soil could be the cause of a rash of late-term losses in foals, early embryonic death, pericarditis (fluid surrounding the heart), reduced growth rates in young horses, and other problems that might not yet have been recognized.
Pericarditis, a scary-sounding word, is a killer in the current situation of equine illness that first manifested itself in foal loss, and now is causing problems in horses of all ages and sexes.
Over and over the refrain has been heard for the past two weeks--the horse industry is lucky to have the equine expertise concentrated in Central Kentucky, especially during this time of all-out war against an unknown killer. Dr. Roger Murphy, president of the Kentucky Veterinary Medical Association and the Kentucky Association of Equine Practitioners, opened the informational meeting the evening of May 10 with the statement: "I'm proud to be a part of an industry that can unify in the face of adversity."
The foal loss syndromes facing Kentucky's pregnant mares might be just the start of a host of problems that could affect horses of all ages, breeds, sexes, and uses in Kentucky and other states. Whether you have a gelding that is on turn-out, a yearling, suckling, stallion, or non-pregnant mare, there could be problems brewing. This information and much more was brought to light at an open meeting at the Keeneland sale pavilion in Lexington, Ky., on the evening of May 10.
After testing numerous pasture samples for mycotoxins, endophytes, and other possible causes to the problems in Kentucky, tests have shown higher than expected levels of a mycotoxin called zearalenone, according to Dr. Steve Jackson, a consultant for Bluegrass Equine Nutrition. Jackson and other presenters stressed that zearalenone has not been pinpointed as the definitive cause to the problems.
Now two counties in Ohio are seeing syndromes similar to those being presented in Kentucky, according to an update Thursday by Dr. Grant Frazer, associate professor at Ohio State University. Frazer said there is no way to make a confirmation that this is the same problem that Kentucky veterinarians and researchers are dealing with, since no definitive description of the problem has been narrowed down.
The Kentucky state veterinarian's office has fielded calls from all over the country regarding late term abortions and early foal loss in Kentucky mares, but Florida remains the only state to take action. The Sunshine State is requiring a special permit for horses shipping in from Kentucky. Dr. Don Notter, Kentucky state veterinarian, is recommending that anyone shipping a mare anywhere should contact the state veterinarian for their destination. He said restrictions and special permits could become required almost overnight.
So far it looks as if many Kentucky breeding sheds will stay open as long as they have clients who want to book their mares...or until the stallions must head into quarantine for trips to Southern Hemisphere locations.
The information session on late term abortions and early fetal loss conducted at the Keeneland sales pavilion Thursday will be available online at Keeneland's web site, www.keeneland.com, for the next 48 hours. In addition, Keeneland announced at the meeting that it will have a videotape of the session available early next week.
While Kentucky horse farms are at the epicenter of the foal loss crisis, the problem is not contained to the Bluegrass region according to a Northern Ohio veterinarian.
The University of Kentucky Disease Diagnostic Center reported Thursday that a total of 386 aborted/stillborn equine fetuses/foals had been submitted for diagnostic testing/evaluation since the problem first arose late last month.
As of May 10, the states of Tennessee, Virginia, Pennsylvania, Michigan, Illinois, and Indiana seem to be clear of the problems facing Kentucky horse breeders.
By Sarah E. Hogwood
Simpsonville, Ky., is experiencing the same problems that are plaguing horse breeders in Lexington, according to William Rhoads, DVM, and Scott Bennett, DVM, of Equine Services Hospital.
Actually, the view from the field in Central Kentucky is rather lonely. There are acres and acres of fresh-mown--or being furiously mowed--pastures that are beginning to resemble putting greens. The recommendation is to cut the grass to hopefully reduce the amount of mycotoxins being ingested by mares--if in fact that is the cause of the current syndromes affecting pregnant mares. Managers and owners desperate for something to do that might help are taking all suggestions seriously. Veterinarians are pulling out all the stops treating at-risk mares with everything that seems logical. Researchers and scientists are busily taking samples and running tests to try and find answers.
Officials with the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services' Division of Animal Industry, reported early Thursday afternoon that in 2 1/2 days they have received applications for 71 permits for horse shipments from Kentucky to Florida. In the wake of the recent foal/fetal loss outbreak in Kentucky, the state of Florida enacted temporary regulations requiring all horses from the Bluegrass State be tracked through the issuance of a permit from the state's Commissioner of Agriculture.
As of noon today (May 9), the University of Kentucky's Livestock Disease Diagnostic Center stated that a total of 371 aborted/stillborn fetuses had been submitted for diagnostic testing/evaluation since April 28, 2001. The total includes 25 submitted by noon on May 9, and 28 submitted May 8.
On Tuesday, May 8, notices were sent to each state veterinarian "to make sure they got factual information" about the current foal loss problems, said Rusty Ford, Equine Programs Manager with the Kentucky State Veterinarian's Office.
The Keeneland Association announced Wednesday that Thursday's inforamtional meeting concerning later term abortions and early fetal deaths will be offered on its Website. The meeting, organized by the Kentucky Farm Managers' Club and the Kentucky Association of Equine Practitioners, begins at 5 p.m. (ET) in Keeneland's sales pavilion.
A veterinarian in Morgan County, Ohio, suspects that five cases of red bag delivery within the past week--plus 10 pregnant mares that are now empty--could be the same syndrome that horse owners and veterinarians in Kentucky are dealing with, according to Grant Frazer, BVSc, MS, Associate Professor at The Ohio State University.
Veterinary and diagnostic professionals in Kentucky are working feverishly to identify the cause of the recent abortion and early fetal loss syndromes. One of the most probable causes is mycotoxins in pastures. If that is the case, then a mycotoxin binder used for other animals--and now being produced locally as a feed additive for horses--could offer the first preventative treatment for the current situation.
In its early stages, the foal loss syndrome appeared to be contained to Kentucky.
The effects of the current crisis resulting from mares aborting or having late-term stillborn foals are being felt on the equine insurance business. According to insurance professionals, underwriters are not accepting any policies written for barrenness or prospective foal insurance in Central Kentucky.
David Parrish III, DVM, was president of the Kentucky Association of Equine Practitioners in 1980 when a mystery problem occurred that caused abortions in mares during early pregnancy. While both involved abortions and were mysteries, the differences in the severity of the two problems are as wide as the decades that separate them.
The highest number of foals/fetal samples taken to the Livestock Disease Diagnostic Center in Lexington, Ky., during the current problem with late-term abortions and early embryonic loss occurred on Derby Day, May 5, according to the Center's Director, Lenn Harrison, VMD, Dipl. ACVP. On that day, 73 foals/fetuses were brought in for examination. Word from at least two veterinarians is that while early pregnancy mares might still be at risk for losing their pregnancies, the loss of these late-term foals is slowing.
The University of Florida College of Veterinary Medicine offers the following recommendations for mares currently in Kentucky and due to be shipped back to Florida in the near future...
In the wake of the outbreak of late-term fetal/foal deaths and near-term abortions in mares in Central Kentucky, the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services has issued guidelines for the equine industry on horses from Kentucky entering Florida. The guidelines require a permit to be obtained prior to shipment by veterinarians who issue Official Certificates of Veterinary Inspection. It also recommends to Florida farms that mares from Kentucky be kept isolated from other horses and their health be closely monitored. There has been no ban issued on shipment of horses from Kentucky to Florida.
Thoroughbred industry leaders, veterinarians, researchers, and farm managers met with the media at the Gluck Equine Research Center in Lexington, Ky., for a press briefing on the current fetal/foal loss syndromes occurring in the state. While there are no answers as to why so many mares are aborting in near-term or having stillborns in late term, there are defined paths being taken that everyone involved hopes will lead to the cause.
With Kentucky's share of the Thoroughbred foal crop in the United States at an all-time high of nearly 30%, the repercussions of the excessive foal loss that many Central Kentucky farms are experiencing may be felt for years to come. Based on figures compiled by The Blood-Horse, the economic impact of the problem could easily exceed $150 million, if foal losses amount to 20% of the anticipated 2002 crop. A 1997 national economic impact study conducted by Barents estimated the Kentucky breeding sector to be a $900 million industry annually.
Dr. Doug Byars, a veterinary reproductive specialist at Hagyard-Davidson-Mcgee near Lexington, offers the latest information and advice to horse owners and farm managers concerning the excessive loss of late-term and near term foals. He was interviewed by Kimberly S. Graetz, editor of The Horse: Your Guide to Equine Health Care (www.thehorse.com) and a contributing editor to The Blood-Horse.
Two "syndromes" of unknown origin that began in late April are causing Central Kentucky farms to lose an excessive number of foals and fetuses. The first syndrome results in what broodmare owners know as "red bag," or premature placenta separation. The placenta comes out before the foal, often causing the foal to suffocate if the birth is unattended. The second syndrome was discovered a short time later, when veterinarians began to perform 60-day ultrasound fetal checks and found many mares either were not pregnant or in the process of ending their pregnancies. Some farms have experienced losses from 25-75% of next year's foal crop. There is no evidence the problems are slowing down.
An outbreak of early-term fetal loss in 1980 was eventually discounted by researchers as an "artifact epidemic" caused by earlier than usual examinations. Still, that outbreak now is viewed by many as similar in nature to the current syndrome that many Central Kentucky farms are experiencing. According to experts such as Dr. David Powell of the University of Kentucky Gluck Equine Research Center, the current problem is much more widespread than in 1980.
Dr. David Powell, an epidemiologist at the University of Kentucky's Veterinary Science Department in the Gluck Equine Research Center, was interviewed Monday by The Blood-Horse about the unusually high number of early fetal loss and late-term abortions among broodmares at Central Kentucky farms.
The following questionnaire about fetal death and late-term abortions is being distributed by the Kentucky Thoroughbred Farm Manangers' Club to its members. The questionnaire, dated May 7, was prepared by the University of Kentucky's Department of Veterinary Science.
The director and staff of the University of Kentucky's Livestock Disease Diagnostic Laboratory have been working long hours conducting necropsies and running tests in an attempt to find answers to the questions raised during the ongoing losses of fetuses and foals in the state. While there hasn't been time yet to compile official numbers of incoming horses for testing, more than 60 have come on some days. The normal number of incoming abortions per day at this time of year is five to six, with a little higher number per day of dead foals.
The Kentucky Thoroughbred Farm Managers' Club and the Kentucky Association of Equine Practitioners will hold a joint meeting Thursday (May 10) in the Keeneland sales pavilion near Lexington to discuss recent problems with early fetal loss and late term abortions in Central Kentucky. The meeting will begin at 5 p.m. (EDT).
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