Cresty Neck Prevalence, Risk Factors Evaluated

Risk factors identified include height, a previous history of laminitis, breed, herd size, and more.
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Regional fat accumulation is linked to a variety of health conditions, such as diabetes, in humans. Similarly, nuchal crest adiposity—fat deposition along the crest of the neck, or the so-called “cresty neck”—is associated with an increased risk of insulin resistance and other metabolic disorders in horses.

In 2009 Rebecca Carter and colleagues at Virginia Tech developed the “cresty neck score,” or CNS, which veterinarians and scientists use to determine neck crest adiposity. Previous studies have linked laminitis risk to neck crest adiposity, but can the CNS be used to determine a horse or pony’s risk of metabolic disorders? That’s what a team from the University of Bristol, in the United Kingdom, set out to determine.

Sarah L. Giles, PhD, and colleagues randomly selected 96 leisure horses and ponies living in a herd environment on pasture for at least six hours per day. The researchers asked the owners in two separate seasonal questionnaires to divulge general information about their horses and ponies, including turnout management, blanketing, dental history, and daily feed and exercise routines. A single observer measured the horses’ and ponies’ CNS at two time periods: once between February 5 and March 24 and once between July 20 and September 1. The team used a CNS of three or higher (on a 0 to 5 scale, in which 0 indicates no crest) to define whether a horse or pony had a cresty neck and then sought to identify risk factors associated with nuchal crest adiposity.

The team found that about 46% of horses and ponies had a cresty neck at the end of winter versus 33% at the end of summer. This means there were more cresty neck cases at the end of winter, the opposite pattern of seasonal variation observed with general adiposity in previous studies

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Kristen M. Janicki, a lifelong horsewoman, was born and raised in the suburbs of Chicago. She received her Bachelor of Science degree in Animal Sciences from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and later attended graduate school at the University of Kentucky, studying under Dr. Laurie Lawrence in the area of Equine Nutrition. Kristen has been a performance horse nutritionist for an industry feed manufacturer for more than a decade. Her job entails evaluating and improving the performance of the sport horse through proper nutrition.

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