Home pregnancy tester for horses breaks new ground

April 28, 2008

by Neil Clarkson

The Wee-Foal-Checker test kit.

The single indicator strip at right confirms that the mare is pregnant.

A revolutionary $30 do-it-yourself pregnancy test for mares delivers a result within 10 minutes, its New Zealand developers say.

"It's the only non-invasive mare-side test that allows breeders themselves to pregnancy-test their mares using a urine sample," says Dr Keith Henderson, of AgResearch's Hopkirk Research Institute in Palmerston North.

"Other urine-based tests are available, but they are laboratory-based and so the breeder needs to send the urine sample off to a laboratory for analysis.

"Our test allows the breeder to run the test themselves and have a result within 10 minutes," he told Horsetalk.

Dr Henderson says pregnancy test kit, called the Wee-Foal-Checker, has the potential to deliver considerable savings to breeders.

"Instead of having to spend $100 to $120 to have a vet pregnancy-test their mare, breeders can buy our test for just $30 and test their mare(s) themselves."

The laboratory developed the test just over a year ago and it then underwent trial. "Feedback from users was very encouraging so we launched the test commercially."

The Wee-Foal-Checker can be used from 110 days after breeding.

"Our next project, which we hope to be able to start soon, will be to try to develop a urine-based test that can be used from around 40 days post-breeding."

The test is a world first in that it allows users to complete the entire process themselves, he says.

The Wee-Foal-Checker website offers advice on collecting a mare's urine. One method, devised by KeriKeri breeder Gill Booth, is shown here. This device is available for loan from AgResearch.
Dr Henderson is a research scientist for the Reproduction Group, based at the new Hopkirk Research Institute at Massey University. He and his research associate, Kim Wearne, have been involved with mare pregnancy testing for several years.

"The first test we developed was a laboratory blood test for pregnancy-testing mares based on measuring the estrogen estrone sulphate.

"This estrogen is produced by the foetal-placental unit, and measuring its blood concentration is a well-established method for pregnancy-testing mares from 100 days post-breeding right through to the expected time of foaling.

"It is not uncommon for mares to slip their pregnancy during the first 100 days, and most veterinarians recommend that the pregnancy status of bred mares diagnosed as pregnant in the first 100 days be checked again by the blood estrone sulphate test," he says.

"Our laboratory does all the equine estrone sulphate determinations in New Zealand, as the main veterinary diagnostic laboratories - Gribbles and NZ Veterinary Pathology - simply forward on to us samples submitted to them for analysis.

"While the laboratory assay is very reliable we thought it would be good to develop a test that breeders/veterinarians could run themselves and so avoid having to send the blood to our laboratory for analysis."

This led to the development of a test called Foal-Proof, which is similar to Wee-Foal-Checker but uses blood rather than a urine sample.

"While we thought it was a great test, sales were very disappointing. This was because veterinarians were perfectly happy just sending in blood samples to our laboratory and didn't really want to run the test themselves!"

The test also delivered no advantage to breeders as they still had to call a veterinarian to take the blood sample.

"We felt a better test would therefore be one that bypassed the need for a vet, and so we developed Wee-Foal-Checker, which was a urine-based test."

Dr Henderson says estrone sulphate produced by the foetus and placenta is secreted into the mare's urine as well as her blood.

"The advantage of urine, though, is that it is non-invasive to collect, and breeders can easily collect a urine sample themselves, and so there's no need to call in a vet."

He says the laboratory offers free back-up if breeders want to have their own reading of the test verified.

"We find that new users of the test appreciate this as they sometimes like us to check that they have run the test correctly, especially if they get an unexpected result, ie, the mare they thought was pregnant turns out to be not pregnant!

"We are also happy to run the test for users; they just have to mail in the urine sample to our lab."

The test kits are manufactured at the laboratory. Advice is given for the easy collection of a urine sample.