A quick search on Google will tell you just how pervasive the problem of accurately diagnosing miniature horse pregnancy is. Here at VIS we have heard of breeders being refused a pregnancy diagnosis service by their veterinarian, and a proliferation of many weird and wonderful home test kits claiming to have found the answer.
The truth is, miniature horse breeders have battled with this unsolved problem for years. They are told that their animals are too small for palpitation or rectal ultrasound examination, but too gassy for abdominal diagnosis.
Their smaller size as a community relative to mainstream equine has meant that their plight has been all but ignored.
Early, accurate pregnancy detection - no longer a tall order for miniature horses?
With thanks to Little Star Miniature Horses
Early, accurate pregnancy detection in miniature horses has remained a long-standing unfulfilled dream for the majority of miniature horse breeders. Their plight has been seen as too diffuclt to solve, or perhaps not financially rewarding enough (compared to mainstream equine work) to address.
Regularly sized mares can of course be rectally examined and pregnancy diagnosed with ease, through both palpitation and ultrasound. The smaller size of the miniature horse, however, prohibits standard rectal examinations, yet their characteristically equine gassy stomachs have also prevented the use of abdominal ultrasound imaging. This is because the density of gas is too low to transmit ultrasonic waves; nearly all of the energy is reflected back to the probe, and any tissue beyond the gas is rendered undetectable.
This has created a situation, therefore, where many miniature horse breeders are left guessing as to the state of their mares, with an 11-month pregnancy often only being confirmed (or refuted) days before birth.
In order to find a solution to this problem, Vet Image Solutions teamed up with world-renowed ultrasound equipment manufacturer Draminski and Little Star Miniature Horses (East Sussex). After a preliminary meeting, the VIS team returned with Michal Dikunow of Draminski and Dr. Kowalski (DVM), an experienced veterinarian, with a range of new theories, settings, and even a new ultrasound probe to test.
Two solutions were subsequently found:
- Using miniature horse-specific settings on the Draminski SonoFarm Mini or Animal Profi, pregnancy can now be detected after the 3 month mark.
- Using the brand new specialised introducer probe with the Draminski Animal Profi, pregnancy can now be detected well before the 30 day mark, and at further stages in the pregnancy with stunning clarity.
The new innovative rectal introducer method not only allows far earlier pregnancy diagnosis, but also offers the quickest, easiest and method of least disturbance to the animals. For those breeders not comfortable with this method, however, the abdominal scanning option still offers an excellent and practical solution, with the umbilical cord often being the easiest 'landmark' to look out for in confirming a pregnancy. The use of ultrasonic gel and minimal clipping is recommended for good contact, and the Andis AGC single-speed clippers were found to be extremely quiet and caused no distress to the mares.
A third option may utilise the ability of the Animal Profi to be equipped with both the abdominal and the introducer probes, so that groups of breeders investing in a shared machine may be able to appoint one more confident individual to do the early pregnancy diagnosis using the introducer, while the health of the foetus and mother can be comfortably monitored by all throughout the duration of the pregnancies using the abdominal probe. The introducer may also be important further into the pregnancy as a means of more detailed investigation should any doubts arise as to the health of the foetus.
In summary, it is now possible to state that pregnancy can be quickly and easily determined in miniature horses with certainty using ultrasound diagnosis. While the costs of ultrasound may be prohibitive to individual breeders with non-pedigree mares, for those breeding pedigree show horses or sharing the costs between a collection of breeders, the benefits greatly outweigh the costs including:
- No more false pregnancies - avoid the long wait that ends in disappointment
- No more wasted feed, feeding up a mare who isn't really in foal
- Sell pregnant mares with an accompanying scan image to prove that she is in foal
- Monitor pregnancies to catch potential health issues immediately