Response to Stress and Immune Responses in Young and Old Horses after Transport

Published on 2023-12-10

Trailer transport is a common practice in the equestrian world, whether for events, leisure or routine appointments.

However, it has been observed that transport, particularly over long distances, can increase stress and reduce the immune function of equines. It would appear that older horses are more prone to alterations in immune function in response to trailer transport.

To explore this issue, researchers assessed the stress and immune responses of young and older horses subjected to a short trailer journey.

The study was conducted on six older (22 ± 1 year old) and six younger (2 ± 1 year old) mares of similar weight and body condition scores. One pair of older horses and one pair of younger horses were transported in a cattle trailer on one of three days over a two-week period. Each journey took place at the same time of day, using the same route (mainly motorway) and lasting one hour and 20 minutes (55 miles).

Blood and saliva samples were taken two to three weeks before transport (baseline), one hour before transport, and at several times after transport (from 15 minutes to 8 days). Data from one older mare were excluded from the study due to preliminary findings indicating potential endocrine disorders (pituitary pars intermedia dysfunction and insulin dysregulation).

Both age groups showed an acute stress response after a short trailer ride. The researchers observed elevated levels of heart rate, cortisol and adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH) in the horses after transport. However, ACTH was higher in the older horses than in the younger ones.

In addition, older horses showed a greater insulin response to transport than younger horses. Three hours after transport, the older horses had insulin levels that exceeded the reference standard used to diagnose insulin dysregulation. T

ll stress-related parameters returned to baseline levels within 24 hours of transport. It should be noted that transport over short distances can trigger an acute stress response in both young and old horses.

Metabolically normal older horses showed elevated insulin levels after transport, which could be an important consideration when transporting horses to a veterinary clinic for testing for endocrine disorders.

In addition, it highlights the need for further research into the impact of transport on insulin levels in horses diagnosed with endocrine disorders. For more information on this research, please see the abstract published in the Journal of Equine Veterinary Sciences.

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