Equine medicine
Research in the discipline of equine diseases focuses on topics relating to key diseases occurring in Finland. Read more about ongoing projects and recent publications on clinical studies.

The research focus is on the dissertation projects of doctoral students and the specialisation articles of veterinarians completing their specialisation. In addition, we supervise the completion of several Licentiate theses in the field of equine medicine each year. These projects are conducted in cooperation with both Finnish and international research partners. Research in the discipline of equine medicine is focused on the most central diseases occurring in Finland. Please read more about ongoing projects and recently published clinical studies.

Research themes

The research project is aimed at determining the effects of bedding on equine health, performance and welfare from two perspectives. In the project, the discipline of equine diseases collaborates with the Research Centre for Animal Welfare, the Natural Resources Institute Finland and Ypäjä Equine College. The research monitors the inflammatory response of the respiratory tracts of the horses living in the Ypäjä Equine College stable and the air quality of the stable throughout the indoor feeding period, with bedding changed at regular intervals. At the same time, the behaviour of the horses in their pens is recorded on video, and the time spent lying down is measured, among other factors. The results can be used to instruct veterinarians, owners and stable operators in the prevention and treatment of respiratory tract diseases caused by environmental dust and allergens. Simultaneously, results from the behavioural studies provide information on the effect of bedding choice on the overall welfare of horses. 

At the moment, the discipline is testing the effects of straw pellets provided by Fortum HorsePower.

Principal investigator: Jenni Mönki, LVM

The first part of the study has been published.

Our research pertains to increasing the safety of equine tranquillisers. Tranquillisers are used for carrying out minor procedures on standing horses, pain relief and anaesthetic premedication. Tranquillisers most commonly used for horses also have side effects, especially on the functioning of the cardiovascular system and the digestive tract. We study how such side effects could be reduced with an antagonist that would reverse undesirable effects without altering the intensity of the tranquillising effect.

Principal investigator: Marja Raekallio

Three doctoral theses have been published on the research.

Kuuluuko tähän vielä muuta, sillä suomeksi virke loppuu oudosti.

The project’s goal is to investigate diversely the causes of sand accumulations in the equine gut and effective drug therapies for the condition. Effective medical removal of sand accumulations reduces the risk of the horse undergoing colic surgery. In studies conducted so far, a combination of psyllium and magnesium sulphate has been found to be a well-functioning drug therapy, with the best results achieved in hospital care. Another goal is to find out why horses ingest sand; an extensive survey on equine living habits was conducted among the owners of horse patients and sandless control subjects to identify a reason for sand ingestion. As sand ingestion is, at times, also associated with trace element deficiencies, another goal is to compare trace element levels in the blood of healthy horses and horses with sand accumulations.

Principal investigator: Kati Niinistö, DVM

A doctoral thesis has been published on the research.

Respiratory tract research is one of the main focus areas in the discipline of equine diseases. Ongoing is a project looking into factors associated with the onset of recurrent airway obstruction (RAO) in horses. RAO, a common disorder especially in ageing horses, is similar to asthma in humans. Long-term exposure to dust and moulds in stable air is considered the primary factor predisposing horses to the disorder. In this study, we are investigating the expression of the extracellular matrix metalloproteinase inducer protein (EMMPRIN) and several other biomarkers in horses with chronic respiratory tract diseases. If the expression level of EMMPRIN has a link to the severity of respiratory tract inflammations or the disposition of horses to develop RAO, the research will provide valuable information on the protein’s role in pulmonary inflammatory conditions. In the future, such information can be utilised, for example, for predicting the disposition of individual horses to develop RAO.

Patient data from the Equine Hospital are utilised in a research project looking into the reliability of various respiratory tract specimen collection techniques. The results will help veterinarians to choose the most reliable way of examining patients suffering from respiratory tract-related ailments.

Collaboration is also conducted with the Finnish Equine Information Centre in Kuopio, which investigates the incidence of respiratory tract infections among free-range foals and related risk factors. In addition, the quality of bacteria living in the respiratory tracts of free-range foals is studied.

Principal investigator: Docent Anna Mykkänen

A doctoral thesis has been published on the research.

Equine metabolic syndrome (EMS) is an equine disease of affluence that is similar, to a degree, to the human metabolic syndrome and type 2 diabetes. Typically, horses which develop EMS are obese and have a glucose metabolism disorder (hyperinsulinaemia, insulin resistance). In a way that so far remains unknown, the equine metabolic syndrome and high insulin levels in the blood in particular predispose horses to laminitis, which, as a painful and chronic symptom, can result in the horse going permanently lame, necessitating euthanasia.

At the moment, we are investigating the incidence of obesity and glucose metabolism disorders in Finnhorses. While prior research has shown that representatives of pony breeds in particular are predisposed to obesity and insulin issues, to our knowledge no studies on insulin disorders in Finnhorses have so far been conducted. According to our hypothesis, the Finnhorse is not especially predisposed to insulin problems and laminitis as a breed, even though it is prone to obesity and often an excellent consumer of feed.

Alongside the Finnhorse research, we are investigating the effect of seasons on changes in glucose tolerance tests and insulin disorders, as well as the effect of tranquillisers on energy metabolism in healthy horses and horses suffering from EMS.

Principal investigator: Ninja Karikoski, DVM

See a publication related to the research.

At some point of their lives, most competition horses suffer from joint diseases and related lameness. The research is aimed at determining the concentration of various anti- and proinflammatory mediators, anabolic growth factors and joint cartilage metabolites in synovial fluid in equine joint diseases of varying severity. Research on these compounds known as synovial fluid biomarkers generates knowledge for the development of joint disease diagnostics and therapies.

In addition, the research explores the response of clinically perceivable symptoms of joint diseases and selected biomarkers to intra-articular hyaluronic acid therapy. Hyaluronic acid is an important component that occurs also naturally in the synovial fluid of horses, whose concentration and viscosity are reduced in conjunction with joint diseases.

Principal investigator: Tytti Niemelä, DVM

A doctoral thesis has been published on the research.

Infections caused by bacteria or filamentous fungi in the equine cornea are serious conditions that can threaten the horse’s vision, requiring rapid and intensive care. The aim is to determine the species of the bacteria or fungi, and their antimicrobial sensitivity, from samples collected from the eye in order to choose an antibiotic and/or antifungal drug that is as effective as possible against the specific microbe.  While information is available on the most common pathogenic microbes associated with equine corneal inflammations, the results vary regionally, for example, depending on climate conditions. Information on the most common pathogenic microbes in several countries and continents around the world has been published. A recently published study describes pathogenic microbes associated with corneal inflammations found in horses treated at the Equine Hospital and their antimicrobial sensitivity from a period of over 10 years. Among other things, the results guide veterinarians working in Nordic climate conditions when deciding on drug therapies and planning treatments even before the specimen analyses have been completed.

Tonometry is an essential part of thorough ocular examinations. In a recently published study, we compared the reliability and accuracy of two tonometers commonly used on animals in connection with equine patients.

Principal investigator: Minna Mustikka, LVM

Publications related to the research:

Our research is aimed at determining the timing of the motor development of foals in their first three weeks of life. The study involves both healthy and unhealthy foals. In the case of the latter, the focus is on developmental delays. There is little research-based knowledge available on the normal motor development of foals.

Our research strives to increase information on foal motor development, enabling the observation of early developmental delays. Such delays can affect the horse’s future as a competition animal. The earlier the issue can be addressed and the required support measures initiated, the better the prognosis is for the horse in competitive and domestic use.

Principal investigator: Heli Hyytiäinen

See a publication related to the research.

The equine roundworm is a significant parasite among young horses, whose symptoms include poor health, gastrointestinal symptoms and respiratory tract symptoms. Almost all foals are infected by the parasite. Every year, individual foals, even those that are given vermicide, die of serious roundworm infection. Globally, the equine roundworm has been found to develop resistance against all currently available antiparasitic drugs.

The tapeworm occurs in grazing horses globally, and it can cause damage in the equine gut as well as colic symptoms. The parasite occurs in Finland as well, but no reliable information on its prevalence is available, since there are no tests for identifying tapeworm infections. Due to the absence of a test, horses are medicated against tapeworms every autumn as a precaution. As a result, a significant share of horses are likely needlessly medicated, causing unnecessary strain on the environment in the process.

The research is looking for risk factors associated with roundworm infections, the significance of roundworm infections to foal health and the effectiveness of vermicides in treating the infections. In addition, a test is under development for identifying equine tapeworm infections.

Principal investigator: Katja Hautala

Publications related to the research:

The research is aimed at investigating mucosal damage in the area affected by the bit in trotters and eventing horses in connection with competitions. Trotters were studied after races in summer 2017 as part of a trotter welfare programme of the Finnish Trotting and Breeding Association. Eventing horses were examined after a cross-country test in summer 2018 in cooperation with the Equestrian Federation of Finland. The study continued in summer 2019.

Principal investigator: Kati Tuomola

Publications related to the research:

Sleep and sufficient rest are factors that significantly affect equine welfare. The purpose of the research is to study equine sleep disorders as well as the conditions and individual traits affecting them. Sleep disorders are common in horses, with the most prevalent symptom being horses falling on their knees while dozing off standing. The study is in its specimen collection stage.

Principal investigator: Anna Mykkänen