How to Manage Starved Horses and Effectively Work with Humane and Law Enforcement Officials

In an ideal scenario, horses that have been seized by humane organization officials and local law enforcement should be evaluated to determine if there’s evidence of neglect or abuse, and to educate (owners) on how to take better care of the horses.
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"The role of the veterinarian in the community is very important (in equine welfare cases)," said Julie Wilson, DVM, Dipl. ACVIM, head of large animal medicine at the University of Minnesota's (UM) College of Veterinary Medicine. "We're perceived as the experts on horse health and advocates for the welfare of the horse. In an ideal scenario, horses that have been seized by humane organization officials and local law enforcement should be evaluated to determine if there's evidence of neglect or abuse, and to educate (owners) on how to take better care of the horses."

Wilson explained that when a horse's dietary intake fails to meet its energy needs, any fat or carbohydrate stores in its body are metabolized (burned for energy). After carbohydrate stores are exhausted, protein catabolism (breakdown for energy) begins, which leads to skeletal muscle wasting and depletion of protein from heart and intestinal tissues.

She and study co-author Drew A. Fitzpatrick of the Minnesota Hooved Animal Rescue Foundation wanted to test a protocol for processing and managing a group of severely malnourished horses, and to share those guidelines with other veterinarians. Before the study commenced, they had developed a protocol following a seizure of 45 horses in 2002. In early 2004, Wilson and colleagues treated 12 horses in the hospital from a seizure of 24 horses in Minnesota using that previously developed protocol. They had a very positive experience with that protocol, as well as communicating with the press. "We encourage you to participate in similar sorts of activities (use this protocol and work cooperatively with humane organizations and the press)," she said

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Stephanie L. Church, Editorial Director, grew up riding and caring for her family’s horses in Central Virginia and received a B.A. in journalism and equestrian studies from Averett University. She joined The Horse in 1999 and has led the editorial team since 2010. A 4-H and Pony Club graduate, she enjoys dressage, eventing, and trail riding with her former graded-stakes-winning Thoroughbred gelding, It Happened Again (“Happy”). Stephanie and Happy are based in Lexington, Kentucky.

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