Developmental Orthopedic Disease (from AAEP Ask the Vet)

Question 1:
We have two fillies, both about 9 months old, who have buckled over at the fetlock joint in both rear legs. Our veterinarian examined them and said they do not have physitis at this time but a previous issue may have caused the condition they have now . . . short tendons in relation to the bone causing them to buckle over. Actually he said that he doesn’t know what may have caused this because our other 8 yearlings have no problem at all. Per his recommendation, I have cut back on calories and protein and am just feeding Bermuda grass hay with a tiny amount of alfalfa. I am also giving bute, cimetidine, multi-vitamin mineral supplement (augment ultra) and an oral joint supplement. Should I be giving (would it hurt if I gave) osteo form calcium phosphorus supplement to make sure that the calcium phosphorus ratio is correct? Our vet tested the blood levels of this ratio and found them to be OK. Any advice you can give me would be greatly appreciated. These fillies have not been right for a few months now. From what I understand it could take 6 months to a year to resolve, if it does at all. Thank you for your time. P

Question 2:
We feed alfalfa cubes to all of our horses . . . broodmares, babies and performance horses. I realize the calcium phosphorus ratio is not correct with this alfalfa only diet. My question is this . . . would feeding osteo form calcium phosphorus supplement to all of the horses correct the imbalance in the diet? Some other breeders have told me they use a phosphorus only supplement when feeding alfalfa to balance out the diet. What is the best supplement for an alfalfa only diet for broodmares and babies? P

Dear P,

I put your two questions together because they both basically ask if you should be supplementing your horses with Osteo-Form Powder by Vet-A-Mix, a division of Lloyd, Inc. Here is that company’s response:

Developmental Orthopedic Disease (DOD) is considered to be a multi-factorial syndrome comprised of genetic, management, and nutritional components. All three aspects should be addressed when investigating any type of DOD problem. Rather than add a supplement that may be unnecessary or perhaps detrimental, a comprehensive examination of all three factors are warranted. For a more thorough description of this type of comprehensive examination, see “Appendix A, Applied Nutrition” in Equine Internal Medicine, Second Edition; Reed, Bayly, and Sellon, Eds.; Saunder, 2004).

In brief, investigating growth-related problems on a farm should include: the measurement of some basic physical parameters of all mares and foals on the farm (height, weight, body condition score); blood chemistry analysis of affected foals, normal foals, and the mares; record of how many hours per day the mares were on pasture with access to fresh grass; an accurate chemical analysis of all feeds, supplements, and water that are fed to the mares and foals; an accurate determination of feed consumption by each mare and each foal; record of which supplements are offered free-choice and which animals had access to them; record of how long the pregnant mares and growing foals had access to the current feeding program; examine the pedigree of all mares and sires to look for similarities in affected foals.

As you can see, it is not a simple matter to pinpoint a potential cause of DOD-related growth problems on a farm. However, with an adequate diet, additional supplements may not be indicated and may even be detrimental. For example, the calcium-phosphorous (Ca-P) ratio is very important to maintain within a small range of normal limits, and in a diet that is deficient in phosphorus, supplementation with additional calcium can actually bind to the little phosphorus that is present in the gut and inhibit absorption, thereby exacerbating the phosphorus deficiency!

In answer to Question #1: Because the blood analysis on the affected foals shows no calcium or phosphorus abnormalities, I would not recommend any supplementation without first analyzing the Bermuda grass hay and alfalfa for calcium and phosphorus to determine if the feed has any deficiency that would suggest supplementation would be helpful.

For Question #2: Again, I would not suggest any supplementation without a more thorough comprehensive examination of the farm as described in the second paragraph above, including feed analysis, blood chemistry analysis, and feed consumption by individual animals. Some animals may require supplementation whereas others may not. While some alfalfa is very phosphorus-deficient, it could be dangerous to supplement without knowing whether the alfalfa being fed to these particular horses is, in fact, phosphorus-deficient. Is it best to know exactly what deficiencies are present before trying to correct any perceived deficiencies in the diet.

Lydia F. Gray, DVM, MA SmartPak Staff Veterinarian and Medical Director Dr. Lydia Gray has earned a Bachelor of Science in agriculture, a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine (DVM), and a Master of Arts focusing on interpersonal and organizational communication. After “retiring” from private practice, she put her experience and education to work as the American Association of Equine Practitioner’s first-ever Director of Owner Education. Dr. Gray continues to provide health and nutrition information to horse owners through her position at SmartPak, through publication in more than a dozen general and trade publications, and through presentations around the country. She is the very proud owner of a Trakehner named Newman that she actively competes with in dressage and combined driving. In addition to memberships in the USDF and USEF, Dr. Gray is also a member of the Illinois Dressage and Combined Training Association (IDCTA). She is a USDF “L” Program Graduate and is currently working on her Bronze Medal. Find Dr. Gray on Google+

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