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Horses, Ponies and Foals Health Updates, Advice and Tips from Devoted Vets

New! RIRDC research on Stringhalt:

Horses suffering from it show extreme hyperflexion or upward flesion of the hindlimbs, so the stifle and hock are acutely flexed. The limb may even make contact with the belly as the horse tries to move forward and develop a 'goose stepping' gait in severe cases. Affected horses are unable to walk, graze or exercise without some difficulty, and require long periods and often therapy for full recovery. 

The vast majority of studies implicate flatweed as being prevalent in paddocks where horses develop Australian stringhalt, commonly after prolonged dry summers, in pastures of poorer quality soils. Flatweed is widespread in SE Australia where a large percentage of the horse population lives.

The suggestion has been that a fungal toxin or "mycotoxins" associated with flatweed may be responsible for the condition, as  fungal toxins are known to cause neurological disease in grazing animals on pastures following prolonged dry periods.

The objective of the latest research was to establish whether flatweed was a potential source of neurotoxins, and thus the cause of the condition. It also aimed to determine if toxins in the plant could be induced by environmental stress, such as drought.

A thorough analysis was conducted of six batches of flatweed plants from a range of environmental conditions and growth stages to maximise detection of potential toxins.

The research showed a lack of evidence that known selected mycotoxins or fungal toxins were present in drought stressed flatweed plants implicated in cases of stringhalt.

This has implications for horse owners and vets in the prevention and treatment of the condition. For example, horse owners are often advised to feed a variety of supplements to treat or prevent stringhalt but the study suggests that the practice of feeding mycotoxin binders may be unlikely to protect horses from developing stringhalt.

However, this is a pilot study and further work to identify a specific toxin continues.

Finding the toxins possibly produced in response to drought stress would confirm evidence that the flatweed should be avoided by owners to assist the prevention of stringhalt in grazing horses.

Until a particular toxin is identified, horse owners can take steps to protect horses from Australian stringhalt by improving pastures to reduce the prevalence of flatweed within paddocks where horses graze, and restricting access to pastures infested with flatweed following prolonged dry weather conditions.

There is no current treatment for stringhalt. Ring Devoted Vets at Warragul Vet Clinic, West Gippsland on 5623 2525 if you are concerned that your horse may have stringhalt. Maintain high quality pastures. Prevention is way better than cure! Posted 24/6/12