equine obesity existed prior to this research, according to Thatcher.
It was an owner-reported survey done in 1998 by the National Animal Health Monitoring System
(NAHMS) through the United States Department of Agriculture. This study reported the prevalence
of overweight or obese horses to be 5 percent.
However, based on the horses seen routinely in clinical practice at VMRCVM, the research team
hypothesized the prevalence of overweight and obese horses was much higher than the reported 5
percent. We thought it was at a level of at least 15 percent, said Dr. Thatcher.
The research team designed a prospective study and conducted it over the course of 60 days from
June 19, 2006 through August 17, 2006. They studied 300 horses, ranging from 4 to 20 years old
from 114 farms, chosen randomly from over 1,000 animals in the VMRCVMs field service horse
The horses were studied between 6 a.m. and 12 noon, prior to any grain or concentrate
consumption, which can alter glucose and insulin levels.
Two independent body-conditioning scores (BCS), which assess the amount of fat cover of the
horses, were assigned to each animal. The scores range from 1 to 9 and a score of 8 or 9
Morphometric measurements were also taken to allow the research team to calculate body weight
and body mass index (BMI). These measurements include girth circumference, neck circumference,
body length, and height.
Each horse was checked for signs of laminitis and blood was drawn to assess glucose and insulin
levels as well as other hormones, cytokines, and oxidative biomarkers.
A questionnaire was also completed by each horses owner to gather background information on
breed, gender, health history, feed, and exercise.
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