The RVC is offering testing for atypical myopathy – a severe and life-threatening equine muscle disorder caused by ingestion of sycamore tree seeds or seedlings by horses kept at pasture.

Atypical myopathy is caused by ingestion of sycamore tree seeds or seedlings.
Atypical myopathy is caused by ingestion of sycamore tree seeds or seedlings.

Risk factors for horses remain unclear. It is, for example, not known whether some trees are more toxic than others or whether the amount of toxin varies at certain times of the year, or with certain climatic conditions.

Hypoglycin A

The Comparative Neuromuscular Diseases Laboratory at the RVC now offers tests for hypoglycin A and its principal metabolite (methylenecyclopropyl acetic acid-carnitine) in serum from horses suspected of having atypical myopathy or at risk field companions.

In work supported by The Horse Trust and the RVC’s Animal Care Trust (ACT), scientists have developed a more rapid test than previously reported methods.

The RVC’s laboratory also offers urine organic acid and plasma acyl carnitine profile testing, which also support the diagnosis in this acquired form of multiple acyl-coA dehydrogenase deficiency. These samples need to be submitted by vets.

Plant samples tested

In addition, the laboratory is testing plant samples (sycamore seeds, seedlings and leaves) for horse owners who have concerns about trees on their properties; owners can organise this with the RVC lab directly.

Richard Piercy, professor of comparative neuromuscular disease, said: “We’re really pleased to be able to launch our testing service for atypical myopathy. Through working with vets and owners in this way, and with the support of The Horse Trust and ACT, we hope to be able to improve the understanding of the condition and the welfare of horses.”

Full details, including prices and shipping instructions for vets and horse owners, can be found on the RVC website.

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