Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Case of the Kissing Spine: Horse’s mysterious back pain leads vet on search for cure

Veterinarians may as well come with a monocle, a magnifying glass, and a Meerschaum Pipe for all the detective work needed to figure out what’s wrong with a horse.

Raymond, a 10-year-old Quarter horse, presented Dr. Cassie Leiterman of Lodi Veterinary Care with a case worthy of Sherlock Holmes.

"Raymond was a ranch horse and was now in the hands of a kid for use in showing and riding," Leiterman said. "But then he had an episode."

The episode included sweating, rapid breathing and agitation that went on for a couple of hours. The horse also showed an unwillingness to bend into turns and lameness in the rear that didn’t respond to common treatment.

Investigative work began in earnest. Raymond got a complete body palpation and movement evaluations in an effort to locate a place or source of the discomfort. Detective work continued with nerve blocks and a flexion test searching for a source of lameness.

"Most of the tests were negative or unremarkable," Leiterman said. "That left us with the visual evaluation and the results of the palpation."

During the body palpation exam, Raymond showed stiffness in his neck and a pain reaction to pressure on his back with possible muscle atrophy. Leiterman wondered if a poor saddle fit was causing some of the problem.

"They were using three different saddles on Raymond," Leiterman said. "And the saddle the little girl was using was the worst. Two out of the three saddles fit very poorly, and that’ll often cause back pain."

Poor saddle fit alone didn’t fully explain the extent of Raymond’s issues. Through a process of deduction, Leiterman kept returning to his back, where Raymond continued to display sensitivity to pressure.

It was decided to take radiographs of the spine. A horse’s spine isn’t the easiest thing to get a picture of, Leiterman said, but you can usually get enough of a shot to view most of the structure. Raymond was set up and pictures taken.

The pictures revealed that the dorsal spine in Raymond’s back had a defect. Where there should be space between the dorsal spines, X-rays of Raymond indicated the bones were touching each other.

"We call this Kissing Spine, and it’s very painful," Leiterman said. "Now that we knew what was causing the problem; what do you do about it?"

Kissing Spine has no specific cure, but certain techniques can help with pain management. Common equine pain reliever Phenylbutazone (also known as bute) is one place to start.

Leiterman said there also are more aggressive approaches. An intravenous zoledronic acid treatment is among the new methods being used to restore bone tissue. Raymond also could receive steroid injections, mesotherapy, muscle relaxers or undergo physical therapy, chiropractic care or acupuncture.

"Raymond was born this way so he’s always going to need treatment and management of his problem," Leiterman said. "We came up with a plan and now Raymond is back to work, and the little girl is very happy."

The plan included the mesotherapy (a treatment that stimulates the mesoderm, or middle layer of skin), steroid injections and some shockwave therapy, along with patience and constant awareness of the condition.

"Raymond is ready to take the little girl to the shows this summer," Leiterman said.

Case closed.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Conformation over function? Presenters remind horse breeders of value of genetics

 Brad Kerbs
Your horse begins to limp or develops a stiffness that starts to get worse. Then the quest begins for what's wrong and you're working with veterinarians, farriers and other equine professionals. Money is being spent and riding time is lost.

Your veterinarian will evaluate your horse carefully. There will be visual evaluations, radiographs, perhaps ultrasound readings, nerve blocks and more until a suitable explanation for the issue is found. Along the way you're making decisions and paying the bills.

Depending on what the specialists find, you'll be given options for treatment or correction. Many structural issues are fixable with good hoof care or even surgery.

Many of the possible structural issues horses have or develop, along with potential fixes and preventions, were the topic of a recent seminar held at UW-Madison and presented by the School of Veterinary Medicine.

Dr. Elizabeth Santschi of The Ohio State University outlined a score or more of structural defects found in horses of all breeds and ages and outlined the causes, diagnostic processes, and many of the methods for helping horses and their owners repair or treat such maladies.

Santschi offered a long list of "carpal deviations" including rotation, offset knees, valgus, varus, toe in, toe out, knock knees, base narrow, base wide, sickle hock, post legged, and camped under.

"A combination of deviations is very common," Santschi said. "A young horse may grow out of some of the deviations but an older horse may need evaluation and treatment."

The first structural evaluation should take place when a foal is 3 to 4 weeks old. At such a young age, some of the potential problems are fixable with time and/or adjustments to hooves. At 3 months, however, the young animal will resemble its conformation at 3 years, and you can more accurately find and address structural deviations.

"No offense to the veterinarians here today, but I don't want to have my horses in the vet clinic getting corrective this and corrective that," said Brad Kerbs, an internationally known equine evaluator and judge. "Some of the horses we've seen today should never be bred."

While nutrition and performance can contribute to structural deviations, Kerbs said horse owners and breeders should do everything they can to assure their horses are structurally sound. When in the market for a new horse, do complete exams before you buy, and if you're breeding horses make sure you're not creating issues genetically.

"Conformation is not about criticizing or picking on a horse," Kerbs said. "It's to evaluate the horse. I think you should look first for what you like."

Kerbs explained that some parts of judging a horse for conformation are highly objective. You can take measurements to determine accurately the right lengths and proportions for the breed and age of an animal. Other evaluations are more subjective and involve close observation of how a horse moves and handles.

"Some of the more subjective measurements can be judged on a scale from one to 10," Kerbs said, "but it's not only about a horse that looks good, it's about the biomechanical function of the horse. I don't want to spend money on taking animals to the vet clinic. Just because a colt has two sound testicles doesn't mean he should be used as a stud."

Separating a genetic deficiency from something caused by injury or use isn't always easy, said Santschi. It's clear that structural abnormalities can make a horse more susceptible to certain conditions, but there often isn't a clear divide.

"Does form equal function? Absolutely," she said. "But there are things we can try to fix when we have concerns, and there are things we can't change. Are we breeding for conformation or function?"

What it boils down to is making an effort to breed sound horses. People in the market for a horse also need to take a close look at the prospect and come up with solid judgments based on the best and most objective information possible.

Altering what genetics have created is an expensive process.

Wednesday, February 08, 2012

Word about Picasa

Wild Hairs!
Picasa, the free Google photo managing program, worked as my main photo program for several years. If heavy lifting was ever required, I did have a version of Adobe Photoshop.

Picasa even helped out when I had photos to show to clients and as long as they didn't need high resolution pictures, the images were downloaded. Otherwise, the client could make some choices and tell me which photos they wanted and I'd get the full res photos to the client some other way.

Picasa has always had its limits and I hit those limits head on. All it took was a more serious client and a far more serious photo shoot. What I had after the photo session was almost 1,000 images to sort through and organize into categorical folders. The client wanted both the RAW file and a JPEG copy.

I used Picasa like I always did to pull the photos out of the camera and create and store in folders on the computer. That part of Picasa works like a charm, always has, and I think I'll keep using it that way. But when it came time to start sorting and creating folders within Picasa, the process no longer flowed.

First, when you make your selections with ctrl/click and then use the "move to new folder" feature, every image is converted from RAW to JPEG. There's no way to just move a RAW file to another folder within Picasa. Likewise with the "export" option. While JPEG copies were needed in this instance, I had to revert to the Windows file system and move the RAW files separately.

Ick. And of course I was way down the rabbit hole so I had to just grind out the process. Picasa is still a great little program for general purposes so I'm going to keep it around and keep using it. But I'm going to have to upgrade the management software if this sort of job keeps coming along.