Kentucky Foal Deaths Remain A Mystery
Researchers at the University of Kentucky’s Gluck Equine Research Center in Lexington have been working around the clock since early May to pinpoint the cause of a large number of fetal losses in that state this spring. Gluck labeled the syndrome “unparalleled in its intensity and severity,” although similar problems occurred in 1980 and 1981.
The problem, called Mare Reproductive Loss Syndrome, has caused both late-term abortions and fetal deaths detected at between 40 and 60 days of gestation. The problem arose in late April, and by late May 529 aborted/stillborn fetuses/foals had been submitted to the center for diagnostic testing.
Some foals born live have had breathing problems, severe dehydration and low white blood-cell (sepsis) counts, with many of those lost as well.
Occurring during the same time frame have been unexplained problems in non-breeding mature horses with pericarditis (fluid around the heart) — normally rare in horses — and severe eye inflammatory disease in both young and old horses. These problems have not been proven to be related to the foal losses.
Although all breeds have been affected, 70% of the foals have been Thoroughbreds, reflecting the high number of Thoroughbreds in Kentucky and the greater likelihood that large farms will report problems.
The cause remains unknown. Recognized bacterial and viral agents have been essentially ruled out. Possible toxicity from cyanide concentrated in tent caterpillar droppings is a theory. Another leading theory is that mycotoxins in the pastures may have played a role in some cases.
Experts sampled pastures, manure and colostrum from affected mares and studied aborted fetuses in search of toxins. They confirmed an unusual weather-pattern link between foal-death problems this year and in past years, with underlying drought conditions and cycles of frost followed by rapid heating.
The European Federation of Thoroughbred Breeders has advised breeders in Europe not to ship horses from Kentucky until the cause of the foal losses has been confirmed. Florida has required that mares being shipped there from Kentucky get permits from the Florida State Veterinarian’s Office. For further information, see www.uky.edu.
West Nile Noted Earlier This Year
As of late May, dead birds harboring the West Nile virus have been found in New Jersey, Connecticut and Maryland. Horse owners are wise to begin practicing mosquito-control methods now, which includes removing mosquito-breeding areas like standing water, using repellents that deter mosquitoes and keeping horses in during heavy mosquito hours.
Rabies Alert For Maine, Arizona
Maine residents, particularly in proximity to the Canadian border, should be aware that Canadian authorities are detecting a high level of rabies activity in wildlife, with 45 positive cases in the region of St. Stephen (closest U.S. neighbor, Calais). Since Canada tests all dead wildlife, including road kill, these figures may more accurately represent the extent of the problem than Maine’s testing, which is limited only to animals that have been involved in a direct human contact.
Arizona also reports a high incidence, with 65 confirmed wild-animal cases to date, including a first-time outbreak in Northern Arizona.
Skunks and raccoons are most commonly involved, but any wild mammal observed to be acting abnormally should be considered suspect.All horses are at risk for rabies. Get them vaccinated now.
New ”White” Rules
The American Quarter Horse Association has revamped its “white rule” for registration purposes effective immediately and retroactive for horses ineligible under former rules. The rule, which frowns upon spotted characteristics and excessive white markings, has been adjusted a number of times over the AQHA’s 60-year history.
The latest version allows horses to have an entirely white head, higher white on the legs, a free-standing spot, and mottled skin on underneath areas. It does not distinguish between breeding stock and non-breeding stock. The ruling may allow more horses to be double-registered with the AQHA and the American Paint Horse Association.
The APHA is holding inspection clinics throughout the country this year where owners can determine if their horses meet color requirements for Paint registry. Others not ready for inspection can meet with the APHA inspectors at the clinics to learn about the color requirements.