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Keywords:

  • horse;
  • body composition;
  • body condition;
  • adipose tissues;
  • body fat content;
  • equine obesity

Summary

Reasons for performing study: Evaluation of equine body fat content is important for nutritional and clinical purposes. However, our understanding of total body fat and its regional distribution in the body is sparse. Currently, body fat evaluation relies on the subjective assessment of body condition score (BCS), which has never been validated against ‘gold standard’ chemical analysis or dissection measurements in ponies.

Objectives: To define the relationships between subjective (BCS), objective (morphometric) indices of body fat and ‘gold standard’ measurements of actual body composition.

Hypotheses: BCS and morphometry offer valid, noninvasive methods for determination of body fat in equids.

Methods: Seven mature (mean ± s.e. 13 ± 3 years, 212 ± 14 kg, BCS 1.25–7/9), Welsh Mountain pony mares, destined for euthanasia (for nonresearch purposes), were used. For all ponies, body mass (BM), BCS and various morphometric measurements were recorded. Following euthanasia, all ponies were systematically dissected. Discrete white adipose tissue (WAT) depots were independently described. Gross, body chemical composition was determined by proximate analyses.

Results: Total somatic soft tissues increased linearly (r2= 1.00), whereas body WAT content (1–26% live BM) increased exponentially (r2= 0.96), with BCS. WAT was equally distributed between internal and external sites in all animals irrespective of BCS. Nuchal fat was a poor predictor of total WAT (r2= 0.66). Periorbital WAT did not alter with BCS (r2= 0.01). Heart girth:withers height and ultrasonic retroperitoneal fat depth were closely associated with total, chemically-extracted lipid which comprised 1–29% live BM (r2= 0.91 and 0.88, respectively).

Conclusions and potential relevance: The exponential relationship between BCS and total body WAT/lipid suggests that BCS is unlikely to be a sensitive index of body fat for animals in moderate-obese states. Morphometric measurements (body girths and retroperitonel fat depth) may be useful to augment subjective BCS systems.