Equine researchers at the University of California, Davis School of Veterinary Medicine are investigating silicate associated osteoporosis (SAO), a disease that involves both the lung and bone organ systems. The goal of the research is to find optimal management of the affected horses and prevention strategies.
The disease, according to the veterinary school, occurs in horses in specific geographic regions of California where soils contain high concentrations of certain toxic forms of the mineral crystal, silica dioxide. When inhaled, the crystals cause chronic lung disease, much like chronic obstructive pulmonary disease or silicosis in humans. Drought conditions in the state exacerbate the problem as vegetation dries out and more dust is exposed, the school further noted.
Affected horses are described as having profound osteoporosis which gradually weakens the skeleton. This causes progressive unspecific and shifting lameness, with subsequent bone deformities and sudden fractures. The lung issues cause flared nostrils and shortness of breath in some horses, and a reduced tolerance for exercise, according to the vet school.
Currently, there is no known cure. Most afflicted horses are euthanized for humane reasons, the school noted.
Veterinarians can help with the research by contacting UC Davis about horses whose disease warrants humane euthanasia because of poor quality of life due to SAO, or other terminal conditions. Donated horses will be humanely euthanized in the large animal clinic for immediate collection of study samples. While the disease can affect horses of all ages, the researchers are focused on those 10 years or older.
For study details, visit the website.