People: Kristien Verheyen, Danica Pollard

This collaborative project between the Royal Veterinary College and the Animal Health Trust, with funding from World Horse Welfare, investigates the epidemiology of laminitis in Great Britain. The acronym CARE stands for Creating Awareness and Reporting Evidence about laminitis. This web-based research project aims to estimate the frequency of owner-reported laminitis in Britain, to further investigate already identified modifiable risk factors for laminitis and finally to produce evidence-based guidelines to help horse owners reduce the impact of equine laminitis.

The study

The four-year study, being conducted by PhD student Danica (Dee) Pollard, currently based at the Animal Health Trust, will take a closer look at management factors which may contribute to the development or recurrence of laminitis within the British horse and pony population. Through modifying these contributing factors, it is hoped that horse owners can significantly reduce the impact of this significant welfare problem.

Our study follows on from previous research conducted by Dr Claire Wylie where factors including rapid weight gain, increasing time since last worming, box rest in the previous week and new access to grass in the past month have been shown to increase the risk of laminitis in horses and ponies. Dr Wylie’s study also revealed that other factors such as transport in the previous week and the feeding of additional supplements were associated with a reduced risk of laminitis. These factors are of particular interest to our new study because they are all modifiable and have the potential to be changed at an owner level.

How horse owners can help

The construction of a dedicated website, which will be used to recruit thousands of horse and pony owners throughout Britain, is currently underway (www.careaboutlaminitis.org.uk). This will ensure that information from a representative sample of the population is obtained and will allow application of the study results to real-life situations. Owners of any horse or pony nationwide, regardless of whether or not their animals have a history of laminitis, will be encouraged to register and complete a baseline questionnaire. This will provide general information about their horse or pony, its health and medical history and their current management practices with regards to diet, exercise, turnout and grazing, stabling and hoof care.

Owners will subsequently be asked to log in once a month and edit any information that has changed since their last submission. The registered cohort of animals will then be followed over a period of two years. The advantage of such a cohort study approach is that a timeline of events will be created, which will provide a clearer association between exposure to a potential laminitis risk factor and the development of the disease. It will also allow us to estimate the incidence of laminitis, which is why it is extremely important that animals that both will and will not develop the disease participate in the project. Following horses that have never suffered from the disease as well as those that previously have had laminitis but have not had subsequent episodes will be just as important as following those that currently do suffer from the disease.

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