By Lee Anna Sherman
When a horse develops an infection, its owners usually turn to a rural veterinarian. But when lameness strikes an Oregon Appaloosa or quarterhorse, rural vets increasingly refer their patients to OSU’s College of Veterinary Medicine for treatment.
And with good reason. A team of highly qualified surgeons, working in facilities that just underwent a $12 million expansion, is providing Oregon’s large-animal industries and independent owners with some of the best care available anywhere.
Among the new diagnostic and animal-care resources available are a “64-slice” CT scanner, a covered arena for evaluation and isolation units for cattle and horses suspected of carrying contagious diseases. The Wayne and Gladys Valley Foundation of Oakland, California, laid the groundwork for the expansion with a $5 million gift. This is the most recent capital improvement project to be completed during the The Campaign for OSU, which has a goal of raising $625 million to support students, faculty, programs and facilities.
By summer’s end, a new equine treadmill will let large-animal specialists like Stacy Semevolos test animals in motion. “The treadmill will be extraordinarily helpful to clinicians and researchers because animals may show signs of lameness or restricted breathing at performance speeds that they don’t while standing still,” says Semevolos, an assistant professor and large-animal surgeon in the college.
According to a 1998 estimate, treating lameness cost horse owners between $678 million and $1 billion annually. Expenses are much higher now, adds Semevolos. She and her colleagues perform about 300 surgeries a year on large animals. Most of the patients are horses, but the surgeons also use their skills on llamas, alpaca, cattle, goats and even the occasional pot-bellied pig. OSU veterinary students benefit from training with the latest techniques for detecting and treating lameness.
The new facilities are not only a boon to large-animal treatment; more laboratory space and sophisticated instrumentation have increased the research potential for the college. With funding support from the American Quarter Horse Association, the Willamette Valley Llama Foundation and the College of Veterinary Medicine, Semevolos studies muscular-skeletal issues in horses and llamas, particularly equine osteochondrosis, a developmental condition that affects the joints. She is looking at equine gene expression in hopes of finding the cause.
“As affected horses exercise, their joints become swollen, and it can lead to lameness in the hock and stifle (rear-leg joints),” she points out. “If it progresses, it can become debilitating. Horses that grow rapidly seem more prone to the condition, so it’s important that we learn to identify the disease in its early stages.”
Horses are rarely far from her mind. At home, Semevolos and her husband, a horse trainer, have six Belgian draft horses that perform in pulling contests and exhibitions around the Pacific Northwest.