Equine disease: Cerebellar abiotrophy

Cerebellar abiotrophy is a neurological disease found mostly in Arabian horses. Though there is no cure, there are ways to prevent its spread through responsible breeding.

There are many things that can go wrong in the equine industry, including diseases. There are diseases horse owners vaccinate to prevent and there are also genetic diseases. Cerebellar abiotrophy is a neurological genetic disease found mostly in the Arabian horse breed. There is no way to cure cerebellar abiotrophy and it is not contagious, but there are ways to prevent the spread of it through responsible breeding practices.

Cerebellar abiotrophy affects the neurons in the cerebellum that controls coordination and balance. Cerebellar abiotrophy is a recessive disease, meaning the symptoms are only present when the horse carries both the recessive genes. A horse can be a carrier and live a normal life. This happens when the horse only has one recessive gene for cerebellar abiotrophy.

Cerebellar abiotrophy symptoms can begin as early as six weeks old, but may take up to 18 months. Symptoms include lack of balance and coordination. A horse will have a hard time standing up and will stand with their legs spread out to secure themselves. The head may tremor and shake a bit, and the movement of the forelimbs might be exaggerated when walking.

The spread of cerebellar abiotrophy carriers can be maintained through responsible breeding. If you are unsure if a horse is a cerebellar abiotrophy carrier, there is a test to determine if your horse is a carrier. It normally requires 30-40 individual hairs with the follicle still attached. The decision to test a horse is only necessary when deciding to breed a mare and the stallion is a cerebellar abiotrophy carrier. You will want to make sure the mare is not a carrier as well to prevent the chance of the foal being positive for cerebellar abiotrophy.

Research has shown there is only a 25 percent for the offspring to have cerebellar abiotrophy. However, with the investing into breeding a mare and keeping a foal mare, it is not a smart economical decision or ethical decision to knowingly breed a cerebellar abiotrophy carrier.

Cerebellar abiotrophy is a common genetic disease that is serious and fatal. Increased awareness of the symptoms as well as responsible breeding practices are key to controlling the spread of this genetic equine disease.

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MSU Extension and the Michigan 4-H Youth Development program help to create a community excited about STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics). 4-H STEM programming seeks to increase science literacy, introducing youth to the experiential learning process that helps them to build problem-solving, critical-thinking and decision-making skills. Youth who participate in 4-H STEM are better equipped with critical life skills necessary for future success. To learn more about the positive impact of Michigan 4-H youth in STEM literacy programs, read our 2015 Impact Report: “Building Science Literacy and Future STEM Professionals.”


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