Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Letter from Doctors

A Veterinarian’s Opinion on the Status of Apalachian Chief
I am a registered veterinarian in the province of Alberta. Although my area of practice for the last 20 years has been small animals (mostly dogs and cats), I have a great deal of experience with horses. I have been a horse owner for 35 of the past 43 years and know how a horse should be taken care of.
I have been following the case of “Apalachian Chief” with interest and concern for some time now. It was my hope that the OSPCA would obtain the necessary veterinary back-up and remove this horse from what is obviously a very bad home/ situation. So it was with a good deal of shock and disbelief that I read the recent press release (dated Nov. 3, 2010). Although I can accept that the horse may not have been found in “immediate distress”, I find it hard to believe the statement that this horse was “found to be in good health”. And it would appear from the documentation provided by the neighbour (of the horse and owner) that there has been blatant disregard for the orders that the OSPCA has issued. This is not a case of ignorance in an uneducated owner – photos confirm that the owner is registered with the Ontario Racing Commission – she knows how a horse should be looked after but chooses not to do so.
Although I would prefer to form a professional opinion only after seeing the horse for myself, this has not been possible. I have however received a full set of photographs and videos from the neighbour. These photographs and videos provide more than enough for me to conclude that this horse is not in good health. It is my understanding that the OSPCA is also in possession of these photos and videos up to August 7th. The set I received contains photos up to and including October 25th.
The photos show:
1) He is excessively thin – his ribs are showing in all but the earliest of the photographs and the fat pad along the crest is markedly decreased by the summer. There is a marked and fairly rapid deterioration in his condition after his arrival at the current owner’s premises in April with minimal recovery seen even after repeated visits from the OSPCA
2) Over the course of his time with his current owner the photos show progressive muscle atrophy visible in the haunches and along the back. In fact the only well developed muscles visible in the more recent photos are his “cribbing” muscles – forming an obvious ‘crib-line’ along his neck.
3) The neighbour has several videos showing Chief not only cribbing (often a sign of stress and boredom) but also eating his particle board stall siding. Most horses that crib and chew on their stalls do not actually eat the pieces. The fact that Chief is eating the pieces of wood suggests to me that Chief is very hungry. The glue/ resin that holds particle board together contains formaldehyde – a known toxin and carcinogen – and certainly not good for Chief’s overall health. Particle board also usually contains melamine – a toxin that has gained widespread notoriety in recent years after being found in some North American pet foods. Many dogs and cats died of kidney failure as a result. There have been no published studies that I’m aware of showing melamine toxicity in horses – but most horses don’t eat melamine containing products. Kidney damage does not even show up on blood and urine tests until it is quite advanced – so even if blood tests were done on Chief there could be undetectable kidney damage occurring.
4) The hay that is visibly ‘available’ (and it appears much of the time there was no hay available) is obviously mouldy – and not just a bit of barely detectable mould – the mould is grossly visible in large patches in many photographs. Given any reasonable alternative most horses would refuse to eat this poor quality hay. It is a well documented fact that exposure to mouldy hay is a major predisposing factor in the development of ‘heaves’ – a condition in horses akin to asthma in people. It can eventually lead to chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). It would be interesting to see if Chief is able to exercise without coughing (and without medication).
5) And that of course brings us to the next point – exercise. There are no visible paddock or pasture areas; not even any signs of hoof prints outside… Since when is it acceptable for a thoroughbred stallion to stand in a stall 24 hours a day, 7 days a week? I understand he gets out maybe once a month for about 10 minutes of hand-walking/ grazing – I do not think this would be considered acceptable standards of care. Now I understand that there is an allowance for mares at a PMU farm to stand 24/7 throughout their pregnancy. But Chief is not a mare at a PMU farm. There’s a reason PMU farms don’t use thoroughbred mares. Livestock or not – when a veterinarian assesses an animal for health and signs of distress or lack thereof – he/she assesses that horse as an individual. Chief was a racehorse for 6 years and then retired to stud. Prior to his current living conditions he had ample daily turnout to stretch his legs. To then expect him to be OK with doing nothing but standing in a stall for 24 hours a day/ 7 days a week is ludicrous. One would expect a degree of mental distress associated with continual confinement in a previously active horse.
I would also expect a certain degree of physical distress from said lack of exercise in a former athlete. Most athletes, whether they be human, canine, or equine, suffer some degree of osteoarthritis as they age – from the wear and tear of their youthful activities. The result is a degree of pain and stiffness with prolonged periods of inactivity. And the best treatment (other than drugs) is regular, moderate to low-grade exercise depending on the degree of arthritis. Unlike humans, animals are very stoic and do not complain and whine about their chronic aches and pains – leading many to believe that they do not feel them. This could not be further from the truth. As veterinarians we used to have elaborate and complicated systems to measure the amount of pain an animal was experiencing. However the current paradigm is simple – if a person in a similar situation would be experiencing pain and discomfort then we can surmise that an animal feels the same. Therefore, I can surmise by current veterinary standards, that Chief feels varying degrees of pain and discomfort from his continual confinement and lack of exercise. And of course when muscles are weak it is the joints that take the strain – and we already know (i.e., can see from the photos) he has significant muscle atrophy.
6) The atrocious conditions of his stall are apparent in the majority of the photographs – the deep layer of manure is not only ‘unsanitary’ but also very unhealthy for his feet. In most of the photos there is no discernible bedding at all – just a thick layer of manure. In the few photos where his stall has obviously been mucked out the replacement bedding layer is too thin for a horse standing on concrete. Prolonged standing in wet/ dirty bedding often results in softening of the sensitive tissues of the feet making them even more sensitive to the hard concrete when there is insufficient cushioning from a thin layer of bedding even if it is clean. In addition to the obvious ‘lack of clean and sanitary living conditions’ – such a build-up of manure in the stall can also result in high levels of ammonia in the air. Ammonia has a deleterious effect on the lungs as well as the immune system – again, not necessarily easily measured.
7) In one photo taken Sept. 12th there is a bottle of Apocimetidine in one of the buckets outside his stall and ‘HORSE’ is handwritten on the bottle. This would tend to suggest that the owner is medicating Chief with Cimetidine – a drug commonly used to treat ulcers. And if he is being treated with an ulcer medication…, we have one more indicator of less than good health.
Perhaps one of the most telling indicators of Chief’s ongoing distress is the reported change in his temperament. This horse, who used to be a kind, gentle horse, has now become a nasty, irritable biter. There are several likely and plausible reasons for this – any and all may be a factor in Chief’s case:
(i) he is starving – excess hunger does not make for a good temperament in any animal
(ii) he is in pain/ some degree of discomfort – animals in pain are notoriously irritable
(iii) he doesn’t feel ‘well’
Abused animals often become aggressive – Neglect is an insidious but very real form of abuse.
It is my professional opinion as a veterinarian that Apalachian Chief is suffering from neglect and hence abuse and should be removed from his current owner.The basic standards of care are clearly not being met – it is obvious that he is not receiving sufficient quality food, clean water, clean bedding, fresh air, or exercise. To allow him to continue in her care is in my mind unconscionable.
F. Patricia Gaviller, D.V.M., B.Sc.
c/c WardMcAlister/OSPCA Newmarket

From "" 
Consequences of Stall Confinement 
"Confined horses tend to display undesirable behaviors and are more at risk of developing intestinal, respiratory, or musculoskeletal problems. When stalling your horse, consider effects this might have on general health and emotional state, particularly over the long term. Explore alternatives to balance confinement time with turnout and exercise to optimize your horse's health and performance...."

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