Researchers Outline Steps Being Taken (Cont.)

By Kimberly S. Graetz
Also on Monday, May 7, a meeting was help with a wide array of specialists, such as pasture management consultants, to help identify areas of pasture chemistry and possible toxic agents that could be investigated. Powell said samples taken from horses and pastures are under investigation.

Powell paused at this point to emphasize that nothing that was happening in Kentucky was in any way connected to current events in Europe or the United Kingdom. He said that while this outbreak is dramatic in nature, it is not a contagious disease. "There are environmental factors that come into play that exacerbate this situation," Powell added. "In 1980, farms experienced a similar syndrome. We think the spring, cold, and drought could have exacerbated the condition."

From A Vet's View
Dr. Roger Murphy, a private practitioner and the current president of the Kentucky Veterinary Medical Association and the Kentucky Association of Equine Practitioners, said veterinarians and managers are trying to use any means to help the problem. This includes conservative therapy such as administration of domperidone (used in cases of fescue toxicity) and Regumate (to supplement hormones) and keeping mares off pasture as much as possible. "That's not going to solve the problem," he admitted, "but we're trying to help."

Murphy also encouraged the industry not to panic and offered some encouragement as well as some reality. "There are two months left in the breeding season. The early fetal loss mares are cycling back, and there's no reason to believe they won't re-breed. But the late gestation losses are hard on the industry. You couldn't ask for a better place if you have to have a problem like this because of the expertise we have.

Down On the Farm
Steve Johnson, president of the Kentucky Thoroughbred Farm Managers Club and operator of Margaux Farm in Kentucky, said there are more than 400 farms represented in the Farm Managers Club, and "we're working in cooperation with the Gluck Center. "Every farm in Central Kentucky is affected to some degree," he said. "The Club is trying to help gather information and help determine management protocols that will help. On our farm, we don't know the extent of the problem. We are finding dead or dying fetuses. We don't know when it started or when it will be over."

Johnson also voiced his gratitude for the vast array of veterinary and research expertise available close at hand. "We are fortunate to be in Central Kentucky with the Gluck Center and the great minds and resources that offers."

He said that farm managers are being encouraged to work as "honestly and forthrightly" as possible with the Gluck Center to get the facts.

Media/Industry Q & A

Q: How many mares are empty?
Powell: This is the primary reason for the questionnaire. The early losses were picked up primarily by vets at 60-65 days doing ultrasound for fetal sexing and at that time identified fetal loss. It's an ongoing situation. As more mares are examined, we will get a more definite answer.

Q: Are there any other animals affected:
Harrison: There are no reports in cattle or other species. Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, and Tennessee diagnostic labs are not reporting problems (in horses or other animals).

Q: How many pregnant mares are involved?
Johnson: The early embryonic loss is from mares bred in 2001. The actual full-term or close to term foals lost are from the 2000 breeding season. With the early embryonic loss it's speculative. Some farms have lost 20%, some 70-80%. (David Switzer, Executive Director of the Kentucky Thoroughbred Association, offered from the audience that the mare population in Central Kentucky usually is about 18,000, although all of those are not in-foal mares.)

Q: Are there any mid-pregnancy losses?
Harrison: One Southern Hemisphere breeder brought in an aborted fetus or two. There are non-Thoroughbreds that are losing foals at six to 10 months of gestation.

Q: Are mares not cycling normally?
Murphy: The only thing we see in the early embryonic loss mares is that they come into heat. When they are checked, they are either completely void or in the process of getting rid of the fetus. The mares with 35-40 day losses seem to come back into heat and are cycling. Many have been re-bred. We feel that the fetal tissues are affected and the mare only has a mild inflammatory process that is transient and not long-term for the mare.

Q: How are you finding the early embryonic losses?
Johnson: Usually ultrasound exams are done at about 18 and 28 days (of gestation), then subsequent exams are done manually (without ultrasound). Manually, vets are finding discernable vesicles, but can't tell that the conceptus is dead or dying. That's only seen through ultrasound.
Murphy: We can feel (on manual exams) more edema and flaccidity to the uterus, but it's hard to perceive a difference at that stage.