Californian researchers delve into silica-related disease in horses

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A horse showing signs of silicate-associated osteoporosis. Photo: University of California, Davis, School of Veterinary Medicine
A horse showing signs of silicate-associated osteoporosis. Photo: University of California, Davis, School of Veterinary Medicine

Researchers in California are hoping to learn more about a distressing disease resulting from the inhalation of silica dioxide by horses.

Equine researchers at the University of California, Davis, School of Veterinary Medicine are launching into a new phase of research into silicate-associated osteoporosis, or SAO.

The disease affects horses in areas of California where soils contain high concentrations of silica dioxide.

When inhaled, the crystals cause chronic lung disease, much like chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) or silicosis in humans. Drought conditions worsen the problem as vegetation dries out and more dust is exposed.

Affected horses suffer profound osteoporosis which gradually weakens the skeleton, causing progressive lameness, with subsequent bone deformities and sudden fractures.

Lung issues cause flared nostrils and shortness of breath in some horses, and a reduced tolerance for exercise.

There is no known cure. Most afflicted horses are euthanized for humane reasons.

Over the past seven years, UC Davis researchers and collaborating veterinarians have characterized the disease and determined diagnostic techniques useful for detecting affected horses.

However, the mechanism that causes the bone disease and the relationship of the bone disease to the lung disease remains unknown.

Understanding this will provide insight into possible treatments, better diagnostic techniques and prevention, and could be useful for understanding similar diseases in people and other animals.

While the disease can affect horses of all ages, UC Davis researchers are focused on those aged 10 and older.

They are currently seeking horses whose disease warrants humane euthanasia due to poor quality of life due to silicate-associated osteoporosis, or other conditions.

Donated horses will be humanely euthanized in the large animal clinic for immediate collection of study samples.

For more details, please contact Regina Zavodovskaya, MS, DVM, Dipl. ACVP, at rzav@ucdavis.edu or 530/754-0156.

One thought on “Californian researchers delve into silica-related disease in horses

  • March 18, 2015 at 2:36 pm
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    I have seen photos of horses that look just like this poor horse mixed in with horses that are at auctions. Instead of the owner doing what is right and giving it the last act of kindness they try to grab what few dollars a kill buyer might pay for it.

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