Possible new way to gauge parasite load

One day it may be possible to determine a horse's parasite burden with a simple, stall-side test.
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A new study suggests that it may one day be possible to use a simple stall-side blood test to screen horses for parasite burdens. Working at the University of Glasgow, researchers used a test currently available through veterinarians called “Succeed Equine Fecal Blood Test” to look for the presence of the blood protein albumin in fresh manure samples from 20 horses. “A small amount of albumin is always lost into the intestine,” says Nicola Kerbyson, BVMS, Cert AVP (EM), MRCVS. “But this is increased in cases of intestinal inflammation, which would occur in response to a parasite burden.”

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The horses’ manure was collected for testing twice, once before deworming and once afterward. In addition to testing for albumin, the preliminary sample was analyzed for the presence of parasite eggs. The data showed that higher albumin levels were significantly more likely to be detected prior to anthelmintic treatment, but a direct correlation to parasite burden was not established.

“We think there may be an association [between albumin level and parasite burden] but our numbers did not have enough power to represent this,” says Kerbyson, who adds that the group is currently undertaking a much larger study in the hopes of making a more definitive connection.

“This test may be of use in the future to be an early predictor of parasite burden, which can be performed at the stable yard more rapidly than a fecal egg count,” says Kerbyson. “It may be useful as a screening test to rule out horses without a parasite burden. Albumin could appear in the feces with any cause of colonic inflammation, such as ulceration or colitis. Therefore, it is more likely to be used as a screening test to rule out a high parasite burden than as a specific indicator of the intensity of an individual’s burden.”

Reference: “The effect of parasite burden on faecally excreted albumin in horses,” American College of Veterinary Internal Medicine Forum poster, June 2014

This article first appeared in EQUUS issue #444.