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Using Ultrasound to Measure Fat in HorsesBy Kentucky Equine Research Staff · November 15, 2016

Accurately assessing fat stores to reflect body condition is important for determining the health status, performance ability, reproductive efficiency, and welfare of horses, according to Kathleen Crandell, Ph.D., a nutritionist for Kentucky Equine Research (KER).

Estimating body condition score (BCS) using the traditional nine-point system is simple, especially when it is practiced over time on multiple horses. Results of scoring can be telling, indicating weight changes and shifts in fat deposition over time. The rate of obesity in horses continues to climb at an unprecedented rate, due in large part to the leisurely lifestyles many lead these days.

“Excess condition in physically stagnant horses contributes to what I refer to as the triad of terror: insulin resistance, equine metabolic syndrome, and laminitis,” added Crandell.

Alternative methods of measuring body fat in horses are being investigated, including real-time ultrasound.

According to a recently published study*, real-time ultrasound serves as a valuable tool for identifying even small changes in body composition over time and can therefore be used to monitor body fat. Because this study was conducted using trained operators and differences between species (both horses and donkeys were used) were observed, additional research is needed.

“While waiting for further developments with this technology, owners are encouraged to body condition score their horses to ensure optimal health and welfare. ” Crandell advised.

A KER nutritionist can help choose an appropriate product or supplement to maximize your horse’s welfare through proper weight maintenance. For example, MicroMax, a low-intake concentrated source of vitamins and minerals for mature horses, is ideal for horses that maintain body weight on diets composed entirely of forage or forage and small amounts of concentrate. In Australia, horse owners should choose Gold Pellet for optimal vitamin and mineral nutrition.

To consult with an equine nutritionist to optimize your horse’s diet, click here.

*Silva, S.R., R. Payan-Carreira, M. Quaresma, et al. 2016. Relationships between body condition score and ultrasound skin-associated subcutaneous fat depth in equids. Acta Veterinaria Scandinavica. 58(Suppl 1):12.