Syndrome Survey Nearly Completed; Hemlock Poisoning Not Ruled Out

Researchers at the University of Kentucky looking into the cause of Mare Reproductive Loss Syndrome are in the process of completing a comprehensive survey involving more than 150 farms. The survey is expected to be completed June 6, with results available to the industry as soon as a thorough evaluation is made of the data.

With more than 322 pieces of information collected on each questionnaire, the researchers have more than 48,300 pieces of data for analysis. The anlysis will be looking at risk factors on farms with mares affected by early fetal loss and/or late term abortion, according to a release posted on the Mare Reproductive Loss Syndrome Website. The surveys were taken by more than 20 veterinarians, state and federal animal health employees, and qualified volunteers, beginning May 30.

"We again would like to thank the cooperative spirit of the entire Kentucky equine industry in this major effort to determine the risk factors of Mare Reproductive Loss Syndrome," the press release stated. "By understanding the animal, pasture and environmental factors on farms, it is the intention that realistic and scientifically based recommendations can be made for all horse farms to prevent this syndrome from reoccurring in the future."

Although the research team has said their work to date suggests the foal losses and late-term abortions were caused by cyanide poisoning from Eastern tent caterpillars that fed on leaves of cherry trees, they are still not ruling out other possibilities, includng involvement of hemlock trees.

"A recent report has suggested hemlock as possibly involved in MRLS," the release said. "The scientific investigating team wishes to again re-emphasize that it is not excluding any possibility. Field observations and clinical data still suggest the involvement of cyanide. If hemlock is involved in this syndrome, the examination of equine tissues from late term fetuses or blood serum from MRLS mares should demonstrate the presence of toxins associated with hemlock poisoning."

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