Laminitis. As a horse owner, a rider, or enthusiast, the word just makes you shudder, doesn’t it?
I’m convinced that few topics of horse health importance evoke as visceral response as this one. The outcomes for many of our favorite horses who have developed painful coffin bone rotation or sinking--whether these animals were famous as athletes or infamous in our own personal barns–haven’t always been too sunny.
We all know a horse who's battled laminitis; the first two horses I rode as a child eventually succumbed to laminitis. This mare, a Tennessee Walker named Sensation's Beauty, was one of them (here, piloted by my mom with me in tow).
Given the importance of this disease to horse owners, I wasn’t surprised when my friend and trusted source Dr. Rustin Moore (DVM, PhD, Dipl. ACVS, Bud and Marilyn Jenne Professor and Associate Dean for Clinical and Outreach Programs at The Ohio State University’s College of Veterinary Medicine) told me the other week that he considered laminitis the No. 1 equine research concern/direction right now. And it’s not just because it’s a topic about which he’s passionate or there’s laminitis research going on at Ohio State. In fact, he said we really need to pay attention to the major laminitis study going on at Texas A&M, which was developed by a working group assembled and organized by the American Association of Equine Practitioners.
This epidemiological study started about a year ago. If you’re unfamiliar with it, the Cliffs Notes are this: Enrolled veterinarians are submitting information about cases of first-time acute laminitis they treat in their practices, along with case-controls (horses without laminitis). Dr. Moore explained that horses with supporting limb laminitis (like Barbaro) are not included in this study, however, an AAEP laminitis working group is currently discussing and developing an epidemiologic study to address this condition.
Lots of research up until this point has been completed in experimental models of disease--not naturally occurring cases in everyday barn/pasture/paddock environments.
The researchers at A&M are overseeing and compiling this veterinarian-submitted data and looking for risk factors associated with acute laminitis. They hope to identify ways horse owners and veterinarians can manage or prevent the condition and prioritize directions for future laminitis research.
This is the part that (to me) seems like a real game changer. Dr. Moore explained that if the researchers can narrow these risk factors and management and preventive techniques down considerably, it will help inform scientists working on future research projects so that the studies will be much more targeted and useful. In essence, the information will be a reference book for other researchers studying laminitis worldwide, helping them conduct research more effectively, efficiently, and with more directly applicable research results. And practicing veterinarians will have more specific ways to identify laminitis-prone animals and prevent the painful, debilitating condition from occurring in the first place.
The other thing I find intriguing about this study is who’s contributing. The participants are our veterinarians--the people who help us prevent illness in our animals in the good times and who walk alongside us when we’re managing tough, heart-rending cases in the not-so-good times.
We can't forget the other crucial study participants: the horses who are battling laminitis. One of the researchers at the study’s helm notified me this week that he and his colleagues saw an uptick in enrollment and data submission after Erica (The Horse’s news editor and author of the Old Horses: Better With Age blog) ran an update on the study last week. I’m torn here because this is just a reminder that there are many, many horses out there struggling with laminitis. However, I’m heartened by the fact that horses--both healthy and laminitic--have the potential to help other horses through this study, and I’m interested to see how laminitis research progress surges forward as a result of their contributions.
Your Turn: Have you ever managed a horse with laminitis? How did it go?