The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the need for guidelines on the care of horses and ponies at risk of obesity and laminitis, especially during any future lockdown events, a new study has found.
The study COVID-19 impacts equine welfare: Policy implications for laminitis and obesity investigated the implications of COVID-19 related policies on equine management and welfare, with a focus on laminitis and obesity. It was conducted by Scotland’s Rural College (SRUC), in collaboration with the Waltham Petcare Science Institute who provide the science behind the SPILLERS brand, during the lockdown restrictions imposed by the pandemic.
Key objectives of the study were to assess the impact of the pandemic on the management of laminitis susceptible horses and ponies, to identify challenges faced in implementing COVID-19 based guidance, and to ascertain areas of decision making and policy development which could undergo improvement in future pandemic or emergency scenarios.
“We discovered that lockdown-associated factors had the potential to compromise the welfare of horses and ponies at risk of obesity and laminitis,” said Ashely Ward, the lead author a PhD student at SRUC. “These included: disparate information and guidance, difficulties enacting public health measures in yard environments, and horses having reduced exercise during the pandemic.
“Our conclusion was that guidelines should be developed for the care of horses and ponies at risk through collaborative input from veterinary and welfare experts. This would help to reduce the negative impacts of future lockdown events in the UK.”
The study also suggested that a collaborative, multi-industry approach to developing and issuing equine specific advice may improve continuity in the measures adopted across individual equine establishments. The researchers anticipate that the results will provide a key reference during any future conversations on public health measures that may impact equine welfare in the UK and recommend that policy makers should include an appreciation of the interaction between the time of year and equine welfare during future lockdown events.
“This work carries important recommendations to reduce equine welfare risks during any future lockdowns,” said Clare Barfoot, RNutr, Marketing and Research and Development Director at SPILLERS. “This summer our primary focus has been on helping horse owners keep their horses at a healthy weight to reduce the risks associated with obesity, in particular laminitis. Until formal guidelines are developed we hope our range of practical advice, available online and via our Care-Line will help, should there be another lockdown.”
The study was conducted in tandem with research looking at how the challenges brought about by the Covid-19 lockdown affected horse on the human/animal interaction. The conclusion, disseminated by SRUC last week, concluded that the coronavirus pandemic had a negative impact on the mental health and wellbeing of horse owners.