Study reveals multitude of indicators for equine insulin dysregulation and laminitis risk - Veterinary Practice
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Study reveals multitude of indicators for equine insulin dysregulation and laminitis risk

The research found that insulin dysregulation may occur in ponies across a wide range of body conditions, ages and levels of exercise, not just in those that are overweight

A new study from the Royal Veterinary College (RVC) has determined new factors that can indicate insulin dysregulation (ID) in ponies.

The study findings confirm that physical observation (ie, looking at the external characteristics of the individual animal) alone is not a wholly accurate predictor of the condition which is associated with an increased risk of laminitis.

The research, conducted in association with the Waltham Equine Studies Group and the SPILLERS brand, found that ID may occur in ponies across a wide range of body conditions, ages and levels of exercise, not just in those that are overweight.

In addition, the study demonstrated that ID was less common in ponies that undertook more exercise including low-intensity exercise.

These findings will impact the variables considered by equine health professionals when targeting ponies for ID screening, helping to ensure that early indicators of increased risk of laminitis are not missed.

The impact of even low-level exercise as identified in the study on reducing occurrence of ID is also an important consideration for horse owners as exercise can be modified.

The association between ID and laminitis is well established and early detection of ID is likely to be useful in preventing laminitis.

To determine the predictors of ID, researchers from the RVC performed a total of 1,763 oral sugar tests (OST) on 367 non-laminitic ponies every spring and autumn over four years.

The OST measures the concentration of insulin in the blood of ponies before and 60 minutes after they were given a sugar syrup by mouth (orally).

This study builds on the RVC’s previous work examining the predictor of laminitis development which was recently awarded the Peter Rossdale Equine Veterinary Journal Open Award 2023 at BEVA Congress. The award was presented by HRH the Princess Royal and is given for the paper that best achieves Equine Veterinary Journal’s mission to publish articles which influence and improve clinical practice and/or significantly to the scientific knowledge that underpins and supports veterinary medicine in relation to the horse.

The paper was written with other RVC researchers namely professors Nicola Menzies-Gow and Jonathan Elliott and Dr Ruby Chang in collaboration with Dr Pat Harris of the Waltham Petcare Science Institute (WPSI). The work was supported by a grant from WPSI and a bequest to the RVC from the Paul Mellon Trust. 

Nicola, professor in equine medicine at the Royal Veterinary College and co-author of the study, said: “Laminitis is a painful and potentially devastating conditions affecting horses, ponies and donkeys worldwide.

“Our studies focus on trying to identify those individual animals that are at a high risk of developing the condition so that preventative strategies can be implemented before the disease occurs.”

Edd Knowles, lead author on the paper, said: “Our work has shown that while physical and owner-reported features can be used to identify ponies with a higher risk of ID, veterinarians should not limit testing for ID to ponies in which these risk factors are present. Doing so would miss identifying ponies at moderate to high risk of laminitis.

“We are honoured to receive the Peter Rossdale Equine Veterinary Journal Open Award. The paper builds on a large body of previous work at the RVC and around the world and applies this knowledge to a large group of ponies kept under a variety of management conditions in the South East of England.

“We aimed to provide information that can be used by vets and owners to identify ponies that are at the highest risk of laminitis. We hope that this will help to identify these cases and intervene to prevent laminitis before severe and painful hoof damage occurs.”

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