Enlargements of the distal third metacarpus and metatarsus in Thoroughbred foals at pasture from birth to 160 days of age

Enlargements of the distal third metacarpus and metatarsus in Thoroughbred foals at pasture from birth to 160 days of age
Peer reviewed

Abstract

AIMS: To assess the relationship between the radiographic and microscopic appearance of the physeal regions of the distal third metacarpal (Mc3) and metatarsal (Mt3) bones of Thoroughbred foals at 160 days of age, and to clinically assess changes in contour of the distal Mc3 and Mt3 physeal regions from birth to 160 days of age. To assess relationships between maximum clinical physis scores and age, time of year, foal’s sex, condition score, growth rate, copper (Cu) concentration in the liver of the foal, and supplementation of the dam with Cu in late gestation.
METHODS: Dams were given Cu (n=5 and n=11, in Years 1 and 2, respectively) or saline (n=5 and n=12, in Years 1 and 2, respectively) injections in late gestation. Liver biopsies were harvested from foals in the first week of life, and the whole liver homogenised after the animals were euthanised at around 160 days of age, to determine Cu concentrations. Pasture samples were collected every 4–8 weeks for analysis of mineral composition. During Year 1, 10 foals were weighed and examined every 2 weeks from birth to 160 days of age for evidence of pain and lameness in the distal Mc3/Mt3. In Year 2, 23 foals were weighed, condition-scored and examined for evidence of pain and lameness weekly for the first 5 weeks of life, then every 2 weeks from birth to 160 days of age, and a clinical physis score for the distal Mc3/Mt3 given. Cabinet radiographs of frontal slices of the physeal region of the distal Mc3/Mt3 at around 160 days of age were given a radiographic physis score. Physes were then examined histologically for evidence of abnormal endochondral ossification.
RESULTS: Gross enlargements of the distal Mc3 and Mt3 were observed in all foals in this study, but were not associated with lameness, pain or inflammation. The most severe clinical physis scores occurred over 2 months in late summer/autumn, and were not influenced by the foal’s growth rate, sex, or Cu concentration in the liver, or treatment of dams with Cu in late gestation. The clinical physis score was highly correlated to radiographic evidence of shouldering in the forelimb and hindlimb (both p<0.001). Focal disturbances in endochondral ossification were evident radiographically and histologically in the some of the physes at 160 days of age. The mineral composition of pasture was similar in Years 1 and 2, and concentrations of Cu and zinc were below those currently recommended for growing horses.
CONCLUSIONS: Gross enlargements of the distal Mc3 and Mt3 were not consistent with previous descriptions of physitis. Results suggest that while many Thoroughbred foals at pasture will have visible boney enlargements of the distal Mc3/Mt3 in the first 5 months of life, few have physeal cartilage abnormalities or significant compromise of endochondral ossification. The importance of these clinical swellings may be overestimated, and they may more appropriately be called physiological enlargements associated with remodelling of bone.
KEY WORDS: Horse, equine, foal, physitis, copper, growth, Thoroughbred

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