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Osteochondrosis Prevention Check List

by Dr Simon Pearce and Dr Cathy Beck

Osteochondrosis is a disease of cartilage in growing horses, and one of the most commonly occurring developmental orthopaedic diseases. It is a major cause of lameness and a source of significant economic loss to the industry. Although there is still a lot to be learned about the causes of equine osteochondrosis, some factors are know to be associated with an increased incidence of the disease. If you have problems with osteochondrosis in your homebred stock, some of the major points which should be considered are summarized below.

Nutrition

Have a complete feed analysis carried out for all stages of your breeding operation (pregnant mares, foals, weanlings and yearlings) and seek the advice of an expert equine nutritionist. Pay particular attention to:

  • digestible energy intake
  • calcium and phosphorus levels and balance
  • copper and zinc levels and balance

Growth Rates

Measure and plot the growth rate (height and weight) of all your young stock at all stages of growth. Keep detailed health records for all animals, including any evidence of developmental orthopaedic disease. Compare the growth rates of affected animals with those of unaffected animals, as well as published growth rates, or with those from other breeding farms which rear similar horses.

Management Practices

Consider the management system on the farm. Did anything change coincident with an increase in the incidence of osteochondrosis? Consider the exercise regime of the horses. Ensure that it is adequate, but try to avoid sudden and dramatic increases in the amount of exercise the animals receive.

Genetics

Consider the genetic background of affected and unaffected animals – but do not jump to conclusions without qualified epidemiological advice.

Record Keeping

Keep careful and complete farm records. These are fundamental to detecting relevant changes in diet and management, and allow objective comparisons to be made between seasons.

Veterinary Advice

Consult your veterinarian regarding the managemental and nutritional background of the animals, and the specifics of the problem. It is advisable to discuss proposed changes in management with your veterinarian before they are implemented.

by Dr Simon Pearce and Dr Cathy Beck
Equine Centre
University of Melbourne