Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Beyond Navicular Disease: Racing Commissioners Call for Regulation of Bisphosphonates in Sale Horses

Portions of the following information is edited from a press release:

The Association of Racing Commissioners International (ARCI) is formally calling for the independent regulation of the breeding and sales industries, including regulation of the class of drugs known as bisphosphonates, which are approved by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for the treatment of navicular disease.

The ARCI Equine Welfare Committee, chaired by Corrine Sweeney, DVM, DACVIM,
Associate Dean of New Bolton Center and Professor of Medicine at Penn Vet, met via conference call on November 7, 2017 to discuss the use of bisphosphonates on horses that race or are intended to race. 

While this class of legal medication has been specifically approved by the FDA to treat navicular disease in older horses, federal law currently does not preclude their use in young horses despite concerns about their safety and research in other mammals showing a link to stress fractures. In horses, stress fractures may contribute to a catastrophic breakdown.

Committee members were concerned about the use of these drugs in young horses amid reports of their widespread use on yearlings and two-year olds to treat pain or get them ready for the auction ring.

Some noted that the bones of horses treated with bisphosphonates may falsely appear to be fully developed when subjected to a radiograph before an auction. “It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to see the profit motive for the seller. But this should never be allowed (to) overrule the concerns about the welfare of the horse,” said ARCI President Ed Martin.

There is sentiment within ARCI to outlaw the use of these drugs in young horses, following the lead of the British Horseracing Authority which has banned their use in horses younger than 3.5 years of age. In addition, the published drug policies of the sales companies are more lenient than those adopted by racing commissions governing the conduct of the race, particularly the permitted stacking of non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs.

On a larger scale, the ARCI recently adopted a resolution stating its solidarity with statements made by Louis Romanet, President of the International Federation of Horse Racing Authorities, indicating that horses should come under the authority of an independent regulatory authority from the moment of birth and throughout their racing career.

The ARCI is calling for the expansion of the racing regulatory authority of its members or other suitable entity to include the breeding and sale of race horses and empowers its officers to begin a conversation with policymakers at all levels and racing industry constituencies to advance this concept and develop all appropriate details.

In addition, the ARCI condemned criminal actions of organized crime within the racing industry.

Note: Bisphosphonates are prescribed for humans as a treatment for osteoporosis. It has been researched for use in older horses with bone spavin as well as navicular disease.

Recent research related to bisphosphonates horses:

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