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Even Short Hauls May Affect Horse HealthBy Kentucky Equine Research Staff · August 5, 2016

Shuttling from one place to another is a fact of life for many horses and ponies. Breeding stock, trail-riding companions, and competition horses log plenty of miles. Researchers recently studied* the effects of short-distance travel on horses, with an emphasis on establishing baseline inflammation data so potential biases can be reduced when horses are presented at veterinary clinics for other problems.

Eight mature mares with no history of coughing or airway disease were used in the study. For three months, mares were subjected to the same conditions, including identical diet and bedding. Tracheal washes and bronchoalveolar lavages (BAL), both of which provide valuable information on inflammation when examined microscopically, were performed at the beginning of the study and after transportation with and without hay. Transportation involved 90 miles (145 km) over about 2.5 hours. Tracheal washes and BALs were performed again after transport. In addition, mucus scores were assigned during each examination.

Transport did not affect bacterial counts of tracheal washes or BAL; however, researchers identified neutrophilia in some of the mares. Neutrophilia, a hallmark of acute inflammation, is defined as an increase in circulating neutrophils. The more neutrophils, the greater the inflammation. Researchers noted that “neutrophilia could develop solely as a result of transportation or due to interactions between repeated transports, ambient temperatures, head position or other environmental factors.” Because of this finding, veterinarians should delay sampling after transport so misclassifications, and potentially misdiagnoses, are not made.

Certain supplements may benefit horses that are asked to travel frequently. Supplementation with omega-3 fatty acids, especially docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), is thought to strengthen immune function and mediate inflammatory response. The richest sources of DHA and EPA, such as the liquid supplement EO•3, are derived from marine species.

“Some interesting research has shown beneficial effects of omega-3s for horses with chronic inflammatory airway disease, so it is not unreasonable to think that prophylactic use would be advantageous to horses that are on the road frequently,” explained Catherine Whitehouse, M.S., a nutrition advisor for Kentucky Equine Research (KER).

Is EO•3 right for your horse? Consult an equine nutrition advisor today.

*Allano, M., O. Labrecque, E.R. Batista, G. Beauchamp, C. Bedard, J.P. Lavoie, and M. Leclere. 2016. Influence of short distance transportation on tracheal bacterial content and lower airway cytology in horses. The Veterinary Journal. 214:47-49.