Research – How Does Transport Impact Senior Horse Immune Function?

Original article – The Horse – written by Erica Larson, July 25, 2017

Transporting horses is stressful,  particularly so for the senior horse,  who may experience a compromised immune response, elevated stress hormones, and decreased body weight.  Weakened immune responses as a result of transporting the senior horse may explain the frequency of respiratory illnesses in feedlots etc.  These findings are yet another reason why senior horses should not be transported for the “humane end of life option” of slaughter.

“Researchers have long known that transportation can be stressful for horses—not only for their minds but also for their bodies. Still, scientists haven’t yet zeroed in on all the ways travel impacts horses’ body systems. They have proven that transport negatively impacts the immune function of other species, including cattle and swine, but little is known about the horse, and there’s no work investigating the impact on senior horses.

…the team hypothesized that, following short-distance transportation:

  • Stress hormone (cortisol) levels would increase;
  • Cell-mediated immune responses (which protect the body against intracellular organisms, such as viruses, using special white blood cells called T-cells; the T-cells recognize when a cell has been infected by a pathogen and act to eliminate it before the pathogen can replicate) would decrease; and
  • Inflammatory cytokine production would increase.

The team used 16 senior horses with an average age of 25 years. They collected baseline blood samples and evaluated clinical parameters a week before a 1.5-hour trip. They gathered the same samples and data 15 minutes before the trip, 15 minutes after, and on Days 3, 7, 14, and 21 after transport.

Some of the team’s key findings included:

  • Horses had decreased INF-γ (interferon-gamma, an inflammatory mediator produced by lymphocytes) production starting 15 minutes after travel and through Day 21;
  • After transport, lymphocyte gene expression showed reduced INF-γ, TNF-α (tumor necrosis factor alpha, a cytokine involved in mediating systemic inflammation), and IL-10 (interleukin-10, another anti-inflammatory cytokine) levels;
  • Cortisol levels were increased 15 minutes after travel;
  • There were no differences in whole blood gene expression before and after transportation; and
  • Horses’ body weights decreased on Day 3 post-transport.”

Please read more here.

Researchers Use Conceptual Models To Improve Equine Welfare In Veterinary Teaching

Veterinary students often lack previous experience in handling horses and other large animals. This article discusses the challenges of using horses for veterinary teaching purposes and the potential consequences for equine welfare. The article proposes a conceptual model to optimize equine welfare using equine similators during practical handling classes.

Written by:  By Christa Lesté-Lasserre, MA, originally published – The Horse

“Horses used for veterinary teaching programs often experience repeated handling and treatment techniques by students who have had relatively little exposure to horses. Unfortunately, that’s becoming more common now than in the past.

A team of researchers from Massey University, in New Zealand, said statistics suggest fewer veterinary students than in the past have prior experience with horses before entering their degree programs. And that, the team said, could have welfare implications for the horses they’re learning from, as well as increased safety risks for the students themselves.

As a result, the researchers recently reviewed the challenges of working with horses in veterinary teaching programs and the potential consequences for human safety and equine welfare. They’ve also proposed a model for improvement.

Veterinary program administrators must realize “that most students are now from an urban environment and that there is a need to formally teach what was previously assumed to be prior animal handling knowledge,” said Gabriella Gronqvist, PhD, MSc, a postdoctoral fellow in equine science at Massey University’s Institute of Vet, Animal, and Biomedical Sciences.

Long-term, she added, the team hopes to “identify parameters which we can measure, such as how many times can you repeat a procedure, given that different activities or procedures all have varying levels of (welfare) cost to the horse. With these metrics, guidelines for horse use can be put in place to assist with the management and the rotation of the teaching horses with the different teaching activities in order to optimize welfare.”

In their study, the team proposed a conceptual model to optimize teaching horse welfare. Gronqvist and colleagues suggested veterinary students receive basic training in equine learning theory and ethology (animal behavior) very early in their education, before being exposed to teaching horses. Notably, they should recall the social needs of horses and understand that keeping a familiar horse nearby during a consultation can reduce stress as well as injury risk.

“A focus on this would be a great first step and would provide the most significant improvement in animal welfare in relation to the time and resources required,” she said.

Meanwhile, computer simulators could help teach students to recognize equine communication signals and learning behavior, Gronqvist said. However, no such equine-specific software exists currently.

Other simulators and dummies—such as Breeding Bonnie, the jugular vein puncture simulator, and the joint injection simulator—can allow students to practice their skills without compromising teaching horse welfare, she said. But after the students have mastered their skills on simulators, they will have to practice on live horses, where their handling techniques will be paramount.

“The model proposed in the study is only a first step toward better understanding the welfare needs of teaching horses in veterinary schools,” she said.

The study, “The Challenges of Using Horses for Practical Teaching Purposes in Veterinary Programmes,” including details on the proposed conceptual model for improvement, was published in Animals.”