Study: Some Wobbler-Affected Thoroughbreds Can Race

Some Thoroughbreds with mild clinical signs of wobbler syndrome eventually made it to the racetrack.
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Cervical vertebral malformation (CVM) is considered, by some, a diagnosis that leaves a horse with little hope of an athletic career. But according to recent study results, some carefully managed CVM horses could have a productive future ahead of them, after all.

Veterinarians most commonly identify CVM, also known as wobbler syndrome, as a type of developmental orthopedic disease in young, rapidly growing horses. Affected horses have malformations in the spine leading to spinal cord compression, which in turn causes a lack of coordination of the limbs and weakness. Radiographs (X rays) can reveal a variety of spinal abnormalities associated with CVM, including kyphosis (curving of the spine), stenosis (narrowing of the spine), and a variety of lesions along the spine.

Treatment options for CVM include conservative management (such as modifying the horse’s diet or using medical treatment to decrease inflammation) or surgical correction of the spinal compression.

Although CVM typically won’t directly kill a horse, many affected horses are euthanized. Study author Crystal Hoffman, DVM, an equine internal medicine resident at Virginia Tech’s Marion DuPont Scott Equine Medical Center, said the reason for this high euthanasia rate is often linked to handler safety. Even with treatment, she said, many of these horses’ neurologic deficits will only improve by one to two grades, making some potentially unsafe to handle

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Natalie Voss is a freelance writer and editor based in Kentucky. She received her bachelor’s degree in equine science from the University of Kentucky and has worked in public relations for equine businesses and organizations. She spends her spare time riding her Draft cross, Jitterbug.

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