Latest research sheds light on puzzling horse diseases

horse with shivers

Research into the causes of equine diseases moves forward. The better we understand how these diseases actually effect horses, the better medicines or perhaps even preventatives can be produced. ~ HfH

From: The Western Producer
By: Jamie Rothenburger

horse with shivers

A horse with shivers

Research sometimes has to accumulate incrementally over decades until a cohesive understanding emerges. 


In other situations, a single study can instantly and fundamentally change the dogma in a profound way. 


Three such game-changing studies in horses were published this year in the journal Veterinary Pathology. 


One was research into the devastating disease osteochondrosis. 


Affected horses can develop swollen joints and lameness, usually at a young age. Their joint cartilage is abnormal and lifts in flaps, cracks or even breaks free to float around the joint.


The underlying cause is abnormal growth plates below the joint cartilage. Cartilage growth plates are where bones elongate in growing animals, and this cartilaginous template is normally replaced by bone. 


In osteochondrosis, this bone replacement does not occur properly, leaving the overlying joint cartilage without the bony support it needs and predisposes it to injury. 


For years, veterinarians believed that osteochondrosis led to the formation of bone cysts, which tend to occur in important weight-bearing locations. As a result, they can result in severe lameness and have a poor prognosis for successful treatment. 


Dr. Kristin Olstad and colleagues in Norway turned this theory on its head. They examined microscopic tissues from 10 young horses and discovered two ways cysts can form: through abnormal cartilage that is surrounded by bone or by a dilated blood vessel, both of which occur after the blood flow to the area fails. 


They concluded that true bone cysts originate from abnormal blood vessels and cause osteochondrosis in the overlying joint cartilage rather than the other way around as was previously thought. 


Another study looked at a movement syndrome called shivers, which most often affects Warmblood and Thoroughbred breeds. 


Affected horses have muscle tremors and hind limb muscle spasms, which involuntarily lift their hind legs up. Hence the name “shivers.” Check out YouTube if you haven’t seen this before.


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1 Comment
  • Margo Nielsen

    The additional information on a laminitis study in this article is enlightening and explains a problem I am having with my pony-mule.

    September 25, 2015