We find out the latest news on Equine Grass Sickness

Belwade Farm Rescue and Rehoming Centre Manager Eileen Gillen shares insights from a conference on the complex disease.

Posted on 21/06/2023

We find out the latest news on Equine Grass Sickness

In March a number of our farm staff and Field Officers attended the Equine Grass Sickness Conference 2023. We’ve previously supported research into Equine Grass Sickness (EGS) – which is a complex and frequently fatal disease – with the Moredun Foundation, including an update which is available on our EGS page here.

Eileen says:

“We’re always keen to find out more about EGS as it’s such a nasty disease – anything we can learn about management practices which can be implemented to help reduce the risk of it is always welcome. The exact cause of EGS is still unknown and certain areas of Britain are affected more than others. Whilst the number of cases in England is greater due to the larger equine population, the disease is more prevalent in Scotland, so sadly it’s something we’re all too familiar with here at Belwade Farm.”

Emaciated skewbald pony stood in typical Grass Sickness posture
Equine Grass Sickness is a devastating disease and even those who survive will be left in very poor condition

“This year’s conference was a fascinating event. It’s so important to hear from all those who might have the misfortune to encounter EGS, from the owners of horses who’ve suffered it, to the vets who’ve treated it, and of course the researchers doing their utmost to pinpoint the true cause. The funders also need to hear from the key stakeholders (the owners) to find out exactly what they need from the project.

“It was fascinating to hear about the new organoid technology which is helping to advance the research. Essentially, the researchers have created a miniature version (in a dish) of a simplified equine gut system. This replicates the biology closely enough that it allows them to assess the way the cells in a horse’s gut will respond to different pathogens and nutrients – or anything else that might come from the horse’s environment that might be causing EGS. This new technology allows researchers to test these responses accurately in a lab, which has never been possible before.

“We also heard during the conference that The Royal (Dick) School of Veterinary Studies has developed an online Continued Professional Development (CPD) course for EGS. The course covers risk factors for the disease as well as nursing chronic cases (which is a very challenging undertaking), so we’re looking forward to learning more from that too.

“If you are unfortunate enough that your horse contracts EGS, you could consider whether you’re happy for their case to help progress research into the disease. You can do this by reporting it to the Grass Sickness Biobank and donating samples taken during diagnosis. There’s lots of information on this, for both owners and vets, at grasssickness.org.uk/biobank. The more data we can help researchers gather on this awful disease, the greater the chance of the true cause being identified — and hopefully, at long last, an effective treatment too.”

You can find out more about The Royal Edinburgh (Dick) School of Veterinary Studies online CPD course on EGS and sign up here.

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