Tuesdays with Tony – 5 Panel Testing

Tuesdays with Tony – 5 Panel Testing

Ah, your mare! You look wistfully back on your history with her. You and your mare have accomplished a lot. She’s made your dreams come true; she’s been there as your partner, and companion through thick and thin.  You’re ready for her to carry on her legacy with a foal.  You’ve poured through the magazines, you’ve researched performance records, and you’re a pedigree expert. Your perfect stallion has been found and is even 5 panel testing negative! Oh goody!

What the heck is  5 panel testing? Is it a good thing when a stallion is negative? What’s a positive mean? Never fear, your intrepid feline source of information is here.

Why do I care about 5 panel testing?

Long ago, in a land far, far away horses were bred for speed, muscle, good looks, color.  You name it, humans have bred for it.  Along the way some other stuff was selected for too, on accident.  Beginning about 30 years ago, scientists found a way to test genes to see if some of the not so desirable stuff was present in the DNA of a horse.  

In 2015, the American Quarter Horse Association (AQHA) took the important step of saying “Hey, we can test for a bunch of bad stuff.  Let’s make sure we breed responsibly.”  This means that ALL stallions that file a stallion report now have these results available to you the mare owner.  Many other breeds have their own genetic diseases that are routinely tested for.  Not sure about your breed of choice? Ask the registration association for that breed or check with my minions.  My minions work hard to stay up-to-date on this ever changing world.

What does 5 panel testing test for?

The 5 Panel Test covers, shockingly, 5 major genetic disorders common in Quarter Horses, Appaloosas, and Paints: Hyperkalemic Periodic Paralysis (HYPP), Polysaccharide Storage Myopathy type 1 (PSSM 1), Malignant Hyperthermia (MH), Hereditary Epidermal Regional Dermal Asthenia (HERDA), and Glycogen Branching Enzyme Deficiency (GBED).

These diseases are all caused by one teeny, tiny mutation which makes them easy to test for, and they all cause really bad diseases. I put a short description about all of them at the bottom of this blog in case you want to read more about them.

Should I test my mare?

You really should.  That’s the short answer.  Here’s the long one.  You can never have too much information when it comes to breeding.  Additionally, HYPP, PSSM, and MH could cause health problems for your mare during pregnancy so knowing if she’s got them can be very helpful to your wonderful veterinarians.  

You really, really should do the 5 panel testing if your stallion choice is positive for any of them.  If you have found that perfect hunk of a guy for your mare, but he’s positive for one of these diseases, you really need to know if your mare is positive too.  If she is, you are definitely going to have to go back to the pretty pictures and find her a different guy.

I’m pretty sure I can now pass a test on this 5 panel testing! Want more information? Call, text, or e-mail my humans.  They love talking about mares, and babies, and stallions, okay, pretty much anything horse.  Until next week, may your litter box be clean and your food bowl full.

HYPP stands for Hyperkalemic Periodic Paralysis. This disease affects the electrical impulses within the body that control muscle contraction. The defective gene results in clinical signs of muscle tremors and fasciculations. In some severe cases, horses may be unable to stand, or even unable to breathe. Horses can show symptoms with only one copy of the defective gene, but symptoms are often more severe if they have two copies of the mutation. This disease affects mostly halter horses, and can be traced back to the prolific stallion ‘Impressive’. Since Impressive lines were also used in Paint and Appaloosa halter breeding programs, HYPP is found in those breeds as well. AQHA does not allow registration of foals that test positive for two copies of the defective gene (H/H), but will allow registration of foals that are H/N: one defective and one normal gene.

PSSM stands for Polysaccharide Storage Myopathy. This disease causes changes in the way sugars are stored and used by the muscles. It causes frequent episodes of ‘tying up’ if not properly controlled by a special diet and regular low intensity exercise. There are two types of PSSM. Type 1 is caused by a genetically identified mutation, which is testable. Type 2 is suspected to be genetic, but that mutation has not yet been identified by researchers. Most Quarter Horses with PSSM have type 1. Horses will show symptoms of PSSM type 1 with one or two copies of the mutation.  Like HYPP, PSSM type 1 is more common in halter QHs than in other lines. Some QHs have been shown to have mutations for both HYPP and PSSM.

HERDA stands for Hereditary Epidermal Regional Dermal Asthenia. Horses with HERDA have defective collagen, an important protein that is part of skin, cartilage, muscles, and tendons. The major clinical sign is skin that is easily injured, torn, or even sloughed off. The skin is also very slow to heal. There is no treatment for the condition, and horses that have it are often euthanized. Horses will only show symptoms if they have two copies of the mutation for HERDA. Horses with only one copy of the mutation are clinically normal. These animals are called ‘carriers’. They can pass copies of the mutation to their foals, and if one carrier is bred to another carrier, the foal might inherit the mutation from both parents and be symptomatic. HERDA is limited mostly to horses with reining and cutting horse bloodlines.

GBED stands for Glycogen Branching Enzyme Deficiency. Like PSSM, this disease also affects how sugars are stored, but in a different and more severe way. It results in abortions, stillborn foals, and foals that are alive but weak at birth and die or are euthanized soon after. Like with HERDA, horses may be carriers for GBED – if a horse has only one copy of the mutation it will be clinically normal. Paints and Appaloosas can also carry the GBED mutation.

MH stands for Malignant Hyperthermia. This disease changes the way muscle cells handle calcium, and thus the metabolism of the cell. Horses with MH will appear normal most of the time, but have specific occasions when they show symptoms. During an attack, horses will have a very high fever, profuse sweating, high and irregular heart rate, high blood pressure, and rigid muscles. Attacks are triggered by certain anesthetic agents or stress, and are sometimes fatal. MH is believed to be less common than either HYPP or PSSM, but the percentage of affected horses is not yet known. Several breeds including Quarter Horses and Paints can be affected. Horses may be positive for both PSSM and MH together, and these animals appear to suffer from more severe episodes of tying up than horses that have PSSM alone.


Tuesdays with Tony-2016: The Year in Colics

Tuesdays with Tony-2016: The Year in Colics

Colics. We see a heck of a lot of them. Now a decent amount of those colics can be attributed to the fairly ridiculous design of the equine GI tract. I mean, honestly, who thought that was a good idea? However, I spent my weekend pouring through the computer to look at colics the Docs saw last year. That’s right, I spend my weekend working. What’s a cat to do when it’s far too windy for civilized folk to be outside but sleep in the sun and play on the computer?

I would like a drum roll here to acknowledge my hard work, so please play one in your head now….

Our Docs saw 318 colics last year. Of those colics, three went to surgery. That’s right, three. Four others needed surgery, but for a variety of very good reasons their owners weren’t able to take them to surgery. I did remove one very specific type of colic from those numbers, but I will explain why later. I’m going to start with the moral of story: Most colics don’t need surgery. There you go. You have the punchline. Now, let’s move on to some helpful guidelines to avoid seeing Dr. Lacher and Dr. Vurgason for… umm… ‘unscheduled opportunities’ to spend money on your horse.

Alfalfa (or peanut). I’m not talking about the bad hair day or the comic strip. I’m talking hay. Feeding coastal hay is very, very strongly associated with an emergency visit from one of my Docs after hours. Coastal hay in a round roll virtually guarantees you will see my Docs for an emergency. If you run out of round bale hay, cold weather moves in, and you put out a new round bale, make sure you throw plenty of alfalfa or peanut hay alongside.  Feeding a minimum of 4-6 pounds of alfalfa or peanut hay daily will go a long way towards preventing this cause.

Be obsessive-compulsive about water.  The old adage “You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make them drink,” exists because it’s so true.  If you even have a doubt about how much water your horse is drinking, get water into them.  How, you ask? Watch this handy video about how to make colic soup for your horse.  Besides colic soup, adding a bit of molasses to the water, or giving them a small amount of salt slurry will entice some to drink up.  Each horse is different; work with your horse to figure out what works best.

Manage your horse’s environment. If your horse is in a sandy area, keeping plenty of roughage going through the system is a great way to prevent sand build-up. Psyllium is also an option here for the horse who needs fewer calories, but hay works better than anything else. For the Fall season, be aware of acorns. Acorns are like cute little field mice for cats: bite size morsels of deliciousness. Too many can lead to gas, and we all know gas can be painful. Acorns are tough to avoid, but our Docs have used muzzles and creative electrical fence configurations to help.

Finally, let me go back to that one particular colic: lipomas.  Lipomas are a fatty tumor that grows in the area of the small intestine in older horses.  It happens in skinny horses and fat horses alike.  Lipomas are associated with age.  They are not because of nutrition, bad or good, management, or any other factor you can control. These tumors are wicked.  They wrap up a section of small intestine much like the bolos used by Gauchos, and strangle it until it dies.  If a small amount of intestine is trapped, and the colic is caught early, surgery can be very successful.  Unfortunately, many of these horses aren’t found for a few hours and by then surgery is very risky, with laminitis a very real risk about 72 hours post surgery.

Colic sucks. There’s no other way to put it. A little work on the diet and a dash of environmental management, and it will suck less. Want help with a diet plan? Contact my trusty minion Beth. She’s super smart when it comes to everything equine nutrition! And now I’m off to supervise the Clinic.


Tuesdays with Tony – What’s with all the colics?

Tuesdays with Tony – What’s with all the colics?

Tony on benchMarch is almost over, and you've all heard the saying, "In like a lion, out like a lamb." Personally I prefer lions because they are really just big, less cuddly cats. Anyway, all this weather fluctuation has made for a bunch of colics!
   In horses, colic is just a general term for signs of GI pain. Colic may be due to an impaction, a twist (the fancy doctor word for this is volvulus), gas, stomach ulcers, or inflammation (doctor word enteritis). Colic may even be due to something non-GI like a urinary obstruction, although that is more of a cat thing. Luckily I haven't had the pleasure of experiencing one yet. 
   About 90% of the colics we see are termed "mild colics." Less than 10% of colics are severe or "surgical colics," so named because they would require surgery to correct. So what makes a colic a mild or severe one?
   In many cases, the answer is time. Most colics, when treated early with pain medication, laxatives, and electrolytes, will improve. There are some cases where a really big impaction will require rehydration with IV fluids to get it to pass. 
   When a mild colic is left untreated, it has the potential to become a bad colic. In the case of gas colics, the gas-filled intestine can float to the top and cause the large colon to twist. An impaction due to long-term dehydration can get worse and worse until it would need to be cut into and flushed out with a hose to get rid of it (yes, that is literally what they do during colic surgery). 
   Unfortunately, some horses are very stoic and don't tell you their belly hurts until it hurts really, really bad! Also, some people have jobs and can't stay home watching their horses all day to see if they colic. So if your horse colics at 8am and you don't get home until 5:30pm, it might already be a bad colic. 
   There is also something fat horses can get called a lipoma, basically a fatty tumor, that wraps itself around the small intestine and cuts off the blood supply. Nobody can do anything about that without surgery. Just one more reason I chose not to be a horse! 
   Luckily our docs are well trained to tell whether your horse has a mild colic or a bad colic, and they will know what to do either way! So the next time your horse has a bit of a bellyache, give us a call. The sooner the better! Odds are in your favor that it will be mild, but I wouldn't want to take my chances. Maybe that ball of yarn doesn't look so tasty after all...I'll just continue my nap. 
    Until next week, may the odds be ever in your favor!

Tuesday’s with Tony-Herpes

There has been a bit of a kerfuffle around here about something called Herpes, or Rhinopneumonitis.  A horse in Georgia was diagnosed with it and a bunch of horses in New Mexico at a racetrack are under quarantine.  A few of the horses in New Mexico have even had to be euthanized.  That got the curiosity of this cat piqued.  Euthanasia seems pretty serious.

Herpes viruses are really good at hiding.  Like time for the cat to go the vet, can’t find them anywhere hiding.  This virus lays dormant in nerves until it feels the immune system is busy elsewhere.  Then it pounces, again let’s go with a cat metaphor, like a cat on a toy mouse filled with catnip.  Usually the horse experiences a snotty nose, maybe a cough, and sometimes a mild fever.  This goes on for a few days before the immune system gets back to work and brings things under control.

Vaccination is really important for immune system control of Rhinopneumonitis.  A well vaccinated immune system recognizes that the virus is out and about and attacks it faster.  This means less virus is put out in the environment.  It makes it a little complicated to understand, but essentially, by vaccinating a horse we don’t protect them, but we do protect every horse they come in contact with.  For this reason horse shows, racetracks, and many horse events have started asking for proof of vaccination for entry.

Ok, I asked, I’m sure the horses at the racetrack were vaccinated, so why did they get it? I’m a really smart cat so I pick up on these sorts of details.  It turns out Rhinopneumonitis has experienced a mutation which makes it harder for the immune system to see, makes it spread really quickly while the immune system is distracted, and causes havoc in the nervous system while it’s doing the first two things.  Horses with this particular kind of Rhinopneumonitis (also called EHV-1) can go years without showing any symptoms.  However, if a stressful event causes them to start shedding virus it passes like wildfire through a stable.  Infected horses can keep shedding virus for weeks! Quarantining affected stables ends up being the only way to stop the spread since vaccination can’t help once horses have been exposed. The good news on this version is that once it is identified and quarantine procedures put it place it is often stopped quickly.  Twice daily temperature-taking identifies affected horses quickly when treatment can still save them.

There’s another version of Rhinopneumonitis that very rarely causes a severe pneumonia that leads to scar tissue in the lungs.  This version, EHV-5, is usually responsible for what we lovingly refer to as the yearling snots.  As young horses get out and see more horses, experience some training, and are introduced to life, they often catch colds.  I’m told human children experience a similar phenomenon.  Most babies experience a few of these on their way to adulthood with only minor hiccups.  Sometimes though, the body wildly overreacts to the virus.  Another cat metaphor: Like a cat reacts to water-very badly.  In these horses the body attacks the lungs and turns them into scar tissue.  Unfortunately, I’m told the humans don’t have great treatment options for this form.

Turns out Rhinopneumonitis is just plain tricky.   Vaccination is good, but not a cure-all.  I’m told being cat-like is the best prevention.  Don’t take life too seriously and stay well rested.

Tuesdays with Tony-Groundhog Day 2016

If I weren’t a cat I would send my most profound apologies for not getting Tuesdays with Tony written on Tuesday.  Luckily, as a cat, I don’t really care.  I have my reasons.  It has been a crazy week.  First there was rain, rain, rain and a temperature drop.  I hate rain.  I love to wander around my kingdom here at Springhill Equine and monitor all the activity.  I do not love getting wet thus when it rains I’m stuck inside.  The only joy on rainy days is making people repeatedly open the door just so I can see if it is still raining.

With all the rain and weather change, Dr. Lacher and Dr. Vurgason were kept busy seeing colicky horses.  People who study these things, they like the fancy title epidemiologist, say weather changes don’t cause colic.  I suppose they are correct in some ways.  Weather changes cause horses to get off their routine and routine changes make upset horse stomachs and upset horse stomachs make Springhill Equine come out for a visit.  That’s why our Docs recommend a little salt, some added water, and some alfalfa or peanut hay during dramatic weather changes.  It also helps to chase the horses around for a few minutes to get their gut moving.  Us cats are designed to sleep 18 hours daily.  It’s a benefit to being a top of the line predator.  Horses need to move around to keep their gut going.  What do they do on a rainy day? Stand under a tree or shelter and pout.

Monday was good.  The day was pretty. I got to sleep in the sun in the middle of the driveway and have people drive around me.  I greeted a few folks as they came in to the office.  I made my rounds of the property.  I liked Monday.

Tuesday was looking good.  The weather was nice.  We have a veterinary student, Bianca, who followed directions nicely and scratched all the places I wanted scratched.  Dr. Lacher was excited because she got to do a castration.  Then the neighbor drove by with a contraption and the day went down from there.  First, Renee wouldn’t let me go supervise the neighbor while he worked on the road with what she called a backhoe.  I feel this is the exact moment when things took a turn for the worse.  Because I wasn’t supervising the human, he cut our phone line.  This led to several moments of panic from Renee and Dr. Lacher.  Dr. Vurgason was having a great time celebrating her husband’s birthday at Disney so she was immune from all this.  Moments later I learned that someone called AT&T is a source of much yelling and screaming from the humans.  I don’t know much about this AT&T but I think they may be the spawn of Satan.  Luckily we have some great local people who are affiliated with this AT&T and they were able to temporarily fix our phone lines.

Whew what a week!  As a present to myself to recover from this week I’m going to allow folks to sign up for Wellness 2016 for one more week.  That’s right you have until February 10th to sign up! You won’t find a better deal for your horse.  I really don’t understand why everyone hasn’t signed up.

Tuesday’s with Tony 1/26/2016

Every few years they make me go to the small animal vet for a fun field trip to get vaccines.  I like car rides and meeting new people so I go along with it.  There is a moment of discomfort when they stick the needles in me.  I get treats. I forgive for the needles since there were treats, and back to the clinic I go.  Horses are different. Of course they are!  They feel the need to be special about all kinds of crazy stuff.  Horses have to get vaccines WAY more often, like twice yearly more often.

Why are horses so special? First: they are getting vaccinated for a different type of infection than most of the vaccines your dog or cat gets.  Eastern Encephalitis (EEE) and West Nile Virus (WNV) in particular are very bad about overwhelming the immune system unless it is super primed and ready.  Also most horses are exposed to EEE and WNV on a VERY regular basis when they get bit by mosquitoes. This means they better be ready to fight all the time!  Second: horses just aren’t good at responding to vaccines.  We all know cats are a superior critter, and I see this as further proof.  Really awesome Docs have done pretty detailed research to show that horses only have a good response for 6-14 months depending on the vaccine.  Cats respond so well that we only have to get shots every 3 years.  Yep, we’re awesome like that.

Another reason horses need vaccines more often: their busy social lives.  While us cats are busy keeping to ourselves being the good loners we are, horses are off at horse shows and trail rides and clinics and sleepovers.  Sure, it all sounds like fun, but it’s also an opportunity to get germs from others.  Horse shows have caught on to this germ festival.  The United States Equestrian Foundation (USEF) recently passed a rule stating that horses have to be vaccinated every six months for Rhinopneumonitis and Influenza.  I’m not one for rules but I hear from our Docs that this one is reasonable.  Lots of horse shows were making their own rules about when and how and why and blah, blah, blah on vaccines.  This means there is one rule to govern them all. (What?! This cat likes Lord of the Rings) So, if you show any breed or discipline that is under the USEF umbrella you must have proof of vaccination.  This includes Paso Fino, Arabian, Dressage, Hunter/Jumper, and Eventing, just to name a few.

I must, also, be sure you know about our Wellness Program.  This simple program will take care of all your horse’s health needs and you don’t have to worry about any of it!  How awesome is that?  Our Docs think of everything.  You have 5 days left to sign up for Wellness 2016.  Don’t miss out on this program!

So once again we have proven cats rule and you should call Springhill Equine.  I feel redundant when I say these things.  Our Docs can help you determine what vaccines your horses really need, when they need them, and provide the documentation you need for all that socializing.