Sweet Itch Myths, Allergy Blood Tests and Equine Bone Scans to Diagnose Foot Pain

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Sweet Itch Myth

You may have heard that horses with sweet itch (Culicoides midge bite hypersensitvity) could actually be more attractive to these tiny nuisances. A study from the Netherlands, University of Utrecht, compared normal and hypersensitive horses turned out together and recorded how many of the insects were attracted to each. The normal horses actually attracted slightly more but not a statistically significant number. These researchers also confirmed that Culicoides are most active at dusk and early in the day. Low numbers were found in the afternoon and at night.

Allergy Blood Tests

Because they’re easy to perform, blood tests for allergy are popular. However, their reliability is being questioned.

A study from Cornell University in the Journal of Immunology and Immunopathology, compared results obtained in horses with skin allergies that were blood tested compared to the results with the gold-standard of intradermal skin tests. They tested for responses to 61 different allergen extracts and found the results agreed for only two of them.

Bottom Line: If your horse is suffering from skin allergies, skip the blood allergy testing.

Bone Scans Find Causes Of Foot Pain

An MRI is the best diagnostic tool for hooves. However, it’s not widely available and very expensive. A study performed by the Animal Health Trust compared MRI and bone scan results in 264 horses with foot lameness. There was 100% agreement between MRI-detected lesions and bone scan results, although the bone scan wasn’t as sensitive. Bone scanning is a reasonable ”next step” after X-rays, although a negative scan may not be completely reliable. The researchers concluded that bone scans may be useful when an MRI detects multiple abnormalities and it’s not clear which may be causing pain.

Alcohol Detection Now Possible

Alcohol doping is the practice of oral administration of alcohol (usually high-proof Vodka) to horses before competition to calm them down. Because alcohol is rapidly metabolized, this went undetected on drug testing — until now.

A test has been developed by the University of Pennsylvania that accurately detects the metabolites of alcohol in a horse’s urine.