You don't need to be signed in to read BMJ Blogs, but you can register here to receive updates about other BMJ products and services via our site.


Pet ponies don’t end up on plates, new research shows

15 Aug, 13 | by Assistant Editor


While there was widespread public concern over the food adulteration scandal earlier this year, in which foods labelled as containing beef were actually found to contain horse DNA, horsemeat continues to be eaten in the UK and throughout Europe.  As data collected by Eurostat and presented here show, large amounts of meat from equids were traded throughout Europe in 2012.

In the UK, equids can be bought for slaughter at auctions, and there has been some public concern that pet or companion animals, as well as retired racehorses, are being acquired by abattoirs through this route.

In order to investigate whether or not this was the case, researchers from the Royal Veterinary College, visited auction markets across England and Wales to study the types of equids being put up for auction, as well as the kinds of animals preferred by dealers buying on behalf of abattoirs.

Seven auctions, located in Yorkshire, Wales, Berkshire and Cheshire, were visited by the research team. In total, they examined 384 equids at the auctions, checking for, among other things, the height, age and body condition of the animals. Several of the animals were found to have physical abnormalities, including bruises, burns, swellings or abnormal discharge.

The horses and ponies in the study were aged between less than one and 21 years old, although the majority (66 per cent) were younger than five years. The average height was 14 hands and a large proportion were geldings (42 per cent) followed by mares (30 per cent).

Of the 384 animals examined, 294 were successfully sold at auction and 68 of these were purchased on behalf of abattoirs.

Animals bought for the meat trade were more likely to be over 15.3 hands high, indicating a preference among abattoir buyers for larger animals. Inkeeping with this trend, abattoir buyers were less likely to buy ponies and more likely to select thoroughbreds and riding horses. Animals with physical abnormalities were more likely to be bought by the meat trade than by other buyers. Eleven of the animals bought by abattoir buyers were lame.

The authors conclude that people procuring equids for the meat trade prefer larger animals, probably reflecting a preference for animals that provide a high meat yield to cover the costs of transport and slaughter. As such, only a small proportion of small horses and ponies were destined for the meat trade and so this study did not support the view that the abattoir industry focuses on pet ponies when choosing animals for slaughter in the UK.

Troy Gibson, one of the authors of the paper, states:

“Horsemeat is widely consumed in continental Europe, especially Italy and France. The vast majority of horsemeat slaughtered in the UK is exported within Europe. This exporting of meat instead of live animals has been suggested to have reduced transportation times and animal suffering. The slaughter of horses, fraudulent labelling and horsemeat entering the human food chain all continue to be very contentious issues in the UK and Europe. This, combined with the ongoing debate in the USA on the slaughter of equids and meat inspection, has resulted in heightened public concern over the slaughter of horses. It has been previously suggested that the abattoir industry was profiting from the slaughter of pet ponies and surplus animals from the racing industry. To investigate this, Yvette Bell, as part of her research project for her Bachelor’s degree in veterinary medicine at the Royal Veterinary College, visited equid markets and investigated factors associated with buying preferences for animals destined for abattoirs. The study gives an interesting insight into the selection of equids for the meat trade, suggesting that the industry focuses on larger animals.”

A new surgical approach to perform equine ovariectomy with the horse standing

5 Jul, 13 | by Assistant Editor


Ovariectomy (the surgical removal of ovaries) in horses can be performed using a variety of approaches, including laparoscopic techniques, which allow the mare to be operated on while standing. However, laparoscopy can be expensive and expertise is required to operate the equipment necessary for a successful and safe operation. In a short communication recently published in Veterinary Record, Gal Kelmer and coworkers report an open flank approach to remove enlarged pathological ovaries that doesn’t require general anaesthesia and avoids the drawbacks of laparoscopy.


Fourteen mares had a unilateral ovariectomy using a standing open flank approach for removal of an enlarged ovary. After sedation, the abdominal cavity of the horses was accessed through a long vertical incision. The external abdominal oblique, internal abdominal oblique and transversus muscles were incised. The surgeon’s hand was then inserted into the abdomal cavity, the enlarged ovary was located and gently pulled toward the incision. Once the ovary was in view and could be reached, heavy traction sutures were placed in the ovarian tissue. The ovary was gradually brought outside of the abdomen and the ovarian pedicle tied off using simple overlapping sutures and a stapling device. During the closing of the abdomen, a suction drain was placed between the external and internal abdominal oblique muscles and the incision closed in layers.




All ovaries were successfully removed without major complications. Three mares developed an incision infection but these healed unremarkably after treatment. Histological evaluation was carried out in 10 cases, revealing granulosa theca cell tumours in nine ovaries and a cystic ovary in one. All mares (with the exception of one that had both ovaries removed) returned to their normal oestrus cycle within three to 12 months after surgery and 12 mares foaled within 30 months of surgery.


The authors conclude that ovariectomy performed with the mare standing using an open flank approach is a safe and efficient technique for removing enlarged pathological ovaries, which avoids the complications associated with general anaesthesia. They add that, overall, there was a low incidence of complications using this method of ovariectomy, cosmetic results and owner satisfaction were good and the mare’s reproductive performance following surgery was excellent.


Gal Kelmer, the lead author states:


Ovariectomy always fascinated me as a surgical procedure. In my residency in Missouri we started using standing laparoscopy for removing ovaries and the procedure was exciting to learn and perform since we used all kinds of new surgical toys. Once I returned to Israel we faced a surge of ovarian tumors in Arabian mares and laparoscopic equipment was not available. I was reluctant to retreat to the old-fashioned way of removing them under general anaesthesia through the ventral abdomen. That old-fashioned way was fraught with complications. Complications were related both to the anaesthesia and recovery and directly to the approach since the ovaries are difficult to access through the ventral body wall due to their attachment to the opposite body wall. Thus, we decided to avoid general anaesthesia and use a flank approach with the mare standing and sedated. Up until recently, it was considered as an axiom that large ovaries, over 10 cm, cannot be safely removed through the flank and a ventral approach under general anaesthesia is mandatory in these cases. We, however, safely remove enlarged, diseased, ovaries up to 30 cm in diameter, via an open flank approach in 14 standing mares. Mares returned to reproduction activity and foaled and owners were satisfied with the results. The use of staples in the procedure is not essential; one can secure the mesovarium with another line of sutures for safe ligation. One should remember that a standing surgery does not necessarily directly translates as ‘easy’ and ‘minor’. One should take ovariectomy seriously since complications can be fatal. Overall, we believe the procedure is uncomplicated and effective and offers a good alternative for experienced surgeons who do not have laparoscopic equipment available.”

Here’s one I made earlier: an equine nerve block simulator for vet students

22 Mar, 13 | by sarahbrown

Equine lameness constitutes a large proportion of an equine clinician’s caseload and performing diagnostic nerve blocks is an essential skill for equine practitioners. However the opportunities for veterinary students to practice this skill are limited. Traditionally, equine diagnostic analgesia is taught with the use of equine cadaver limbs. However, due to economical, logistical implications, in conjunction with the increase in the number of veterinary students, and ethical reasons, the use of cadavers is becoming increasingly more difficult.

In a paper recently published in Veterinary Record, a team of researchers from the Royal Veterinary College in London, UK, designed an equine nerve block simulator using an equine forelimb skeleton and expanding foam, which was carved to mimic the shape of the soft tissues.1 Wire wool targets were placed under the foam in the positions corresponding to the anatomical location of the palmar digital, abaxial and low four point nerve blocks and attached to an electric circuit and a buzzer, which provided auditory feedback when the needle had been placed correctly and the closed the electric circuit.

In order to validate the simulator, third-year undergraduate veterinary students were randomly assigned to one of three groups: the cadaver group, which received training in a 45 minute cadaver session, the simulator group, which received training using the nerve block simulator and the hand-out group, which was given a handout and a textbook to study. Students from all groups were asked to return one week later to demonstrate what they had learned on an equine cadaver forelimb.

Taking all the nerve blocks together, the cadaver group demonstrated the highest accuracy (73 per cent), followed by the simulator group (71 per cent) and the handout group (58 per cent). Feedback from the students showed that those in the simulator group enjoyed their training more and felt more confident in performing the technique than the other two groups.

The authors conclude that the nerve block simulator enabled students to learn how to perform diagnostic analgesia in the equine distal limb with a similar proficiency to traditional cadaver limb training. They add that this safe, cost-effective method also allows students to repeatedly practice skills with ease and could be a useful supplement the teaching of diagnostic nerve blocks to undergraduate veterinary students.

Follow this link to watch the simulator in use!


Equine nerve block simulator



1. Gunning, P., Smith, A., Fox, V., Bolt, D. M., Lowe, J., Sinclair, C., Witte, T. H. & Weller, R. (2013) Development and validation of an equine nerve block simulator to supplement practical skills training in undergraduate veterinary students. Veterinary Record doi: 10.1136/vr.101335

Less canker, more canter

6 Feb, 13 | by sarahbrown


Equine hoof canker is a destructive infection that affects the external and underlying structures of the hoof. The disease is diagnosed by its typical clinical appearance: cauliflower-like proliferation of the hoof matrix with a foul smell and white, cheesy fluid – nice! Current treatment involves removing the infected parts of the hoof and followed by a careful antiseptic cleaning program and in some cases antibiotics. This is very time consuming, taking several months, and clinical signs often return within a year. The successful treatment of this disease is hindered by the fact that the cause of this infection has not been identified.

Recent research has shown that the DNA and RNA of bovine viruses (papillomaviruses), which can cause tumours, have been detected in canker tissue samples, whereas no viral DNA was detected in horses without canker lesions.1 A short communication recently published in Veterinary Record documents a new and promising therapy for canker using a topical formulation of cisplatin chemotherapy, aimed at reducing the length of hospitalisation and short-term recurrence of the disease.2 Cisplatin is one of the most potent chemotherapy agents used in human and veterinary medicine and intralesional cisplatin chemotherapy with and without surgery is a well-documented and successful therapy for common equine skin tumors (sarcoids). It works by binding to certain sequences of DNA/RNA, making it unable to replicate.

Ten horses (19 hooves) diagnosed with canker were included in the study. Hooves were thoroughly cleaned, trimmed and kept in disinfectant bandages until surgery, when affected tissues were removed. If healthy tissue appeared a few days later in the absence of any suspected canker, the topical cisplatin therapy was started. This included 10 applications of cisplatin paste, made up of cisplatin injection solution, EucillinB crème and metronidazole-saccharose (two antibiotics). Treated hooves were bandaged until a layer of horn had formed or the hooves were fitted with a treatment plate. Horses were kept in hospital on an average of 32 days and follow-up investigations (between 0 and 14 months) found that nine of 10 horses had not any recurrence of the infection.

Equine foot canker before and after treatment with cisplatin.

Equine foot canker before and after treatment with cisplatin.

The authors, Veronika Apprich and Theresia Licka, noted that, after this treatment regimen, uncontrolled growth of the canker was easily controlled, with a low incidence of short to medium-term recurrence. They also add that in contrast to other cancer treatments, topical cisplatin chemotherapy could be cost effective by reducing hospital time.

Attempting to study a disease considered to be rare may have seemed ambitious to some; Theresia told us, ‘In our clinic, research into canker, thought to be rare, was regarded as a bit of a long-term project, and we were regarded as a very patient research team (if slightly crazy). We were looking forward to having two canker horses a year for this study. Since we have started, and word spread, we have been inundated with patients as well as international requests for information on canker treatment, and our students now graduate with the (probably erroneous) impression it is about as common as pus in the foot!

The team is now working on several related projects, one of which is an infection study, in an attempt to discover the origins of this disease.


1. Brandt, S., Schoster, A., Tober, R., Kainzbauer, C., Burgstaller, J. P., Haralambus, R. & others (2010) Consistent detection of bovine papillomavirus in lesions, intact skin and peripheral blood mononuclear cells of horses affected by hoof canker. Equine Veterinary Journal 43, 202-209

2. Apprich, V. & Licka, T. (2013) Equine foot canker: a clinical trial of topical cisplatin chemotherapy. Veterinary Record doi: 10.1136/vr101359

Vet Record blog homepage

Vet Record blog

Highlights and insights into the research featured in the Veterinary Record. Visit site

Creative Comms logo

Latest from Vet Record

Latest from Vet Record