Mares that are fed a diet that includes or is solely comprised of concentrates during gestation are significantly more likely to produce foals that develop permanent osteochondrosis (OC) lesions compared with mares who are fed a diet of roughage alone, report researchers.
In addition, foals that are exclusively kept on pasture from the preweaning stage (birth to weaning) to the postweaning stage (weaning to 1 year) are significantly less likely to develop OC lesions than their counterparts kept in box or alternately between box and pasture.
The findings underline the role of energy metabolism and level of exercise in the etiologic process of this disease, which severely affects the joints of horses and their ability to perform in sports, note Jean-Philippe Lejeune (University of Liège, Belgium) and colleagues in Veterinary Record.
"The results of this study help to develop preventive strategies during the crucial period of late gestation to one year of age of the foal," they write.
The study cohort included 223 foals that underwent radiologic examination and had available data for breeding conditions such as feeding practice of the mare and the foal up to 1 year of age, and housing management.
A total of 69 (31%) foals were affected by OC, with 34 (15%) in metacarpo-metatarsophalangeal joints, 31 (14%) in hocks, and 20 (9%) in stifles.
Foals whose mothers had been fed a diet including only concentrates and no roughage during gestation were 1.25 times more likely to have OC lesions compared with those whose mothers were fed a diet that contained both feeds.
Foals whose mothers were fed a diet with no concentrates had a significant 91% reduction in the risk for developing OC compared with those whose mothers had a mixed diet.
For pre- and postweaned foals, type of feed showed no significant associations with OC development. However, type of housing was significantly associated.
Specifically, pre- and post-weaned foals that were alternately boxed and pasture housed were a significant 2.34 and 7.12 times, respectively, more likely to have OC lesions than their counterparts that were always pasture rested.
"For horses that alternate pasture and box housing, periods of occasional intensive exercise of short duration could induce a compromised endochondral ossification, and represent a risk to develop OC lesions" suggest Lejeune et al.
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