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Laminitis Takes Down A Champion

As seen in AnimalNews 14.1

And they’re off! 

May 20, 2006. Pimlico Race Course. A beautiful, clear, sunny day.

“I believe he’s being pulled up! Barbaro’s being pulled up!  He’s out of the race and the Triple Crown.”

A mere 40 seconds into the second stage of horse racing’s coveted Triple Crown, Barbaro, the Kentucky Derby winner and Preakness favorite, fractured numerous bones in his lower right rear leg, his “ankle.” What followed was a saga of multiple surgeries, progress and relapse. Then, when the fractures were healing, came the devastating development of laminitis, the excruciatingly painful disease that eventually led to Barbaro’s euthanasia.

Laminitis is a common and ancient disease of horses, recognized for nearly 2,500 years. About 20 percent of all horses will develop laminitis in their lifetime, making it the second most common cause of death in horses. The disease is characterized by swelling of the soft-tissue structures (the laminae) surrounding the bone enclosed in the equine hoof. Laminitis is very painful, and while the pain can sometimes be controlled with medication, once laminitis develops it can never be cured. Occasionally, as in Barbaro’s case, the pain becomes so excruciating the patient is euthanized.

Barbaro’s heroic struggle highlighted the need for more research into the causes and treatment of laminitis. One particularly new and exciting area of study focuses on one of the most common causes of laminitis, equine metabolic syndrome (EMS). Horses with EMS are typically overweight, partly due to abnormal carbohydrate metabolism and partly due to lack of exercise. When these horses develop laminitis, they become so uncomfortable they don’t want to move, which spirals into a vicious cycle of inactivity, further weight gain and worsening laminitis. Morris Animal Foundation recently funded several studies that hope to shed some light on all aspects of EMS, from diagnosis to treatment.

· Dr. Molly McCue, of the University of Minnesota, is looking for genetic markers to identify horses at risk for EMS development.

· Dr. Jane Manfredi, of Michigan State University, is analyzing muscle and fat metabolism to identify EMS risk markers and possible new treatment targets.

· Dr. Jill McCutcheon, also of Michigan State University, plans to use her funding to test a new, inexpensive diagnostic test for EMS.

· Dr. Melody de Laat, of Queensland University of Technology, is addressing the problem of exercise and food consumption in a unique study. Dr. de Laat will use a specially designed paddock that has a feeder at one end with two doors that open and close. After 5 minutes, the door on one side closes and ponies must walk around a dividing fence to the other side of the feeder to finish their meals. Sort of like a continuous drive-through restaurant!

Thanks to our many supporters, Morris Animal Foundation is able to fund these exciting and innovative studies, which will hopefully discover new ways to diagnose and treat this devastating disease.

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April 2, 2014