Research from Australia confirms a suspicion long held by many horse owners and veterinarians: A cresty neck is a reliable indicator of increased risk for metabolic syndrome and associated laminitis.
The connection always seemed to make sense. Fat tissue not only stores energy but also plays an important role in the synthesis and release of hormones that maintain metabolism and insulin function. Abnormal insulin function is one of the most significant risk factors for endocrinopathic (hormone-linked) laminitis in horses.
To investigate whether there actually is a correlation between neck crestiness and the likelihood of metabolic dysfunction, researchers at Queensland University of Technology examined 26 ponies and assigned each a body condition score (BCS) as well as a cresty neck score (CNS). Based on a scale established in an earlier study, the CNS is designed to provide an objective measure of fat accumulation on the neck. A CNS of 0 correlates to “no visual appearance of a crest and no palpable crest” while 5 indicates a “crest so large that it permanently droops to one side.”
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Based on these assessments, the ponies were divided into three groups: Those with a cresty neck (a CNS of 3 or greater) but moderate body condition; those who were obese with a cresty neck; and those who were in moderate body condition and did not have a cresty neck. The researchers also used oral glucose tests to determine each pony’s ability to regulate blood insulin.
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Comparing the results of the oral glucose test among the groups, the researchers found that crestiness was the primary indicator of dysregulation. Ponies that were not obese but had a cresty neck score of greater than 3 were five times more likely to have insulin dysfunction—and, therefore, a greater risk of laminitis—than were ponies with less pronounced crests, regardless of overall body condition. Likewise, the data suggested that an obese horse without a cresty neck was less likely to have an increased risk of insulin dysregulation or related problems.
Not only do these findings confirm what observant veterinarians and horse owners have long suspected, they are also consistent with human obesity research that links specific patterns of regional fat accumulation to harmful health consequences.
Reference: “The cresty neck score is an independent predictor of insulin dysregulation in ponies,” PLOS One, July 2019
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