Monthly Archives: April 2017

Diagnose and Track Your Horse’s Health with Your Phone

Carrying a smartphone or tablet is like having a spare brain in your pocket, one that helps you keep track of all the details in your busy life. At the barn, that device can also help you keep your horse healthy. 

Health Data in Your Hand 
The latest tool for this task is Horse Health Tracker, a smartphone app released by Equine Guelph, the horse-focused education and research center at the University of Guelph in Ontario, Canada. It’s designed to help you monitor vital health information for your horse. 

The heart of the app is the Horse Health Check feature. It guides you through a 16-point health checklist that covers the horse from ears to hooves. Videos show you how to monitor heart rate and other vital signs. You can record results as often as you like, even several times a day, which makes this feature important for monitoring a sick horse. 

Other features in the app help you determine and record the horse’s body condition score or estimate his body weight. A video library gives you quick access to all the instructional videos presented in the app. The app retains data from each health tool for 13 months and it will generate graphs so you can compare the results over time. Built-in email capability allows you to send the data directly to your veterinarian or others. You can also enter reminders for vet and farrier visits and other appointments. If you want, the app will sync the reminders with your smartphone’s calendar.

Horse Health Tracker is available for download at the App Store and Google Play. The basic version, which is free, allows you to track information for one or two horses. Upgrades ($4.59 to $11.99) can handle as many as 50 horses. Each horse is tracked separately, and you can add pictures taken with your device to the records. A user guide is online at equineguelph.ca

Five-Minute Parasite Egg Counts 
Does your horse need deworming right now or can he wait until fall? Soon a smartphone may help answer that question, thanks to an innovative new fecal-testing system developed in collaboration with scientists at the University of Kentucky. 

Current veterinary guidelines call for individualized deworming programs, using fecal testing to determine the best intervals between treatments and to gauge whether the drugs you’re using are effective. The tests look for the eggs of strongyles, ascarids and some other parasites in manure samples. You collect a sample and send it to a lab (directly or through your veterinarian), where a technician prepares a slide, views it with a microscope and manually counts each visible egg with a clicker. This work requires skill and training, and the results take some time. Generally you’ll wait a week to 10 days for the them to come back.

The new Parasight imaging unit attaches to a smartphone. Veterinarians can use it in the field to get immediate information about a horse’s parasite load. | Courtesy, MEP Equine Solutions, LLC

The new Parasight imaging unit attaches to a smartphone. Veterinarians can use it in the field to get immediate information about a horse’s parasite load. | Courtesy, MEP Equine Solutions, LLC

The new system, called Parasight, shortens that time to less than five minutes. This means that vets can use it in the field to get real-time information about parasite loads. The system includes a smartphone app, an imaging unit (a simple device that attaches to a smartphone) and a kit for prepping manure samples. Samples are first treated with chemicals that cause parasite eggs to glow under blue light. Then they are placed in the imaging unit and photographed with a smartphone. 

The smartphone app counts the glowing eggs and emails the results to the veterinarian, along with recommendations for treatment. It can distinguish between different types of parasite eggs and is as accurate as traditional lab tests, the developers say. A companion follow-up kit, which gives less detailed information, is intended for horse owners to use in monitoring the effectiveness of treatment. 

MEP Equine Solutions, LLC, the Lexington, Kentucky, company that developed the Parasight System, expects to have a commercial version on the market within a year. Last spring, the company was awarded a $100,000 Small Business Innovation Research grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture to help move the process along. The people behind the company include Chief Scientific Officer and Co-founder Paul Slusarewicz, PhD, an adjunct professor at the University of Kentucky’s Gluck Equine Research Center who focuses on the commercial development of new animal-health technologies. MEP’s other co-founders are company President Eric Hauk, a businessman, and Technical Adviser Martin Nielsen, DVM, PhD, an international expert in parasitology research who is an assistant professor at the Gluck Center.—Elaine Pascoe

This article originally appeared in the July 2015 issue of Practical Horseman.

Current Breakthroughs in Equine Research

Over the past 30 years the Grayson-Jockey Club Research Foundation has funneled nearly $20 million into studies aimed at improving horse health. This year the effort continues with funding for a dozen new projects in fields ranging from laminitis to lameness diagnosis. A sampling:

Detecting lameness at the gallop: Kevin Keegan, DVM, of the University of Missouri, is developing an objective method (using a calibrated instrument) for detecting obscure, subtle lameness in horses at the gallop. The goal is a low-cost method that can be used in the field to increase understanding of lameness in racehorses.

Deworming and vaccines: While it’s not unusual to deworm and vaccinate horses on the same day, recent findings have raised concerns about possible interactions. Martin Nielsen, DVM, of the University of Kentucky and Gluck Equine Research Center, is investigating whether deworming causes an inflammatory reaction that affects vaccination.

Imaging injured tendons: Horses recovering from tendon injuries are often put back to work too soon and suffer re-injury. Sabrina Brounts, DVM, of the University of Wisconsin–Madison, is exploring a new method developed at the university to monitor healing in the superficial digital flexor tendon. The technique, called acoustoelastography, relates ultrasound wave patterns to tissue stiffness: Healthy tendon tissue is stiffer than damaged tissue.

Detecting laminitis early: Hannah Galantino-Homer, VMD, of the University of Pennsylvania, is investigating possible serum biomarkers (molecular changes in blood) that appear in the earliest stages of laminitis. The goal is to develop tests for these disease markers so that treatment can start when laminitis is just developing, before it’s fullblown and damages the foot.

Other new studies include evaluations of a rapid test for salmonella; investigation of how neurologic and non-neurologic equine herpesvirus 1 (EHV-1) spreads cell-to-cell in the body; an effort to map the distribution of stem cells after direct injection into veins; and more.

This article originally appeared in the June 2013 issue of Practical Horseman.

Gut Check: A New View from the Inside

Researchers are testing an endoscopic camera, contained in a small capsule and placed directly into the horse’s stomach, to gather imagery of the equine intestinal tract. The capsule sends images to an external recorder, held in place by a harness.

Researchers are testing an endoscopic camera, contained in a small capsule and placed directly into the horse’s stomach, to gather imagery of the equine intestinal tract. The capsule sends images to an external recorder, held in place by a harness.

Courtesy, Western College of Veterinary Medicine

Traditionally, veterinarians’ and researchers’ view of the equine intestinal tract has been limited. Endoscopy (inserting through the horse’s mouth a small camera attached to a flexible cable to view his insides) allows them to see only as far as the stomach. While ultrasound can sometimes provide a bigger picture, the technology can’t see through gas—and the horse’s hindgut (colon) is a highly gassy environment.

These limitations make it hard to diagnose certain internal issues and also present research challenges. But the view is now expanding, thanks to a “camera pill” being tested by a team at the University of Saskatchewan, led by Julia Montgomery, DVM, PhD, DACVIM. Dr. Montgomery worked with a multi-disciplinary group, including equine surgeon Joe Bracamonte, DVM, DVSc, DACVS, DECVS, electrical and computer engineer Khan Wahid, PhD, PEng, SMIEEE, a specialist in health informatics and imaging; veterinary undergraduate student Louisa Belgrave and engineering graduate student Shahed Khan Mohammed.

In human medicine, so-called camera pills are an accepted technology for gathering imagery of the intestinal tract. The device is basically an endoscopic camera inside a small capsule (about the size and shape of a vitamin pill). The capsule, which is clear on one end, also contains a light source and an antenna to send images to an external recording device.

The team thought: Why not try it for veterinary medicine?

They conducted a one-horse trial using off-the-shelf capsule endoscopy technology. They applied sensors to shaved patches on the horse’s abdomen, and used a harness to hold the recorder. They employed a stomach tube to send the capsule directly to the horse’s stomach, where it began a roughly eight-hour journey through the small intestine.

The results are promising. The camera was able to capture nearly continuous footage of the intestinal tract with just a few gaps where the sensors apparently lost contact with the camera. For veterinarians, this could become a powerful diagnostic aid for troubles such as inflammatory bowel disease and cancer. It could provide insight on how well internal surgical sites are healing. It may also help researchers understand normal small-intestine function and let them see the effect of drugs on the equine bowel.

The team did identify some challenges in using a technology designed for humans. They realized that a revamp of the sensor array could help accommodate the horse’s larger size and help pinpoint the exact location of the camera at any given time. That larger size also could allow for a larger capsule, which in turn could carry more equipment—such as a double camera to ensure forward-facing footage even if the capsule flips.

With this successful trial run, the team plans additional testing on different horses. Ultimately, they hope to use the information they gather to seek funding for development of an equine-specific camera pill.

“From the engineering side, we can now look at good data,” Dr. Wahid explained. “Once we know more about the requirements, we can make it really customizable, a pill specific to the horse.”

This article was originally published in Practical Horseman’s October 2016 issue.