Taking a cue from naturopathic medicine for humans, horse owners and trainers often turn to hair analysis to test their animals for mineral deficiencies and heavy-metal toxicity. The process is painless for horses, as it involves testing several hairs removed from close to the skin, and can reveal a wealth of information about a horse's health and nutritional status. Hair analysis also has been used posthumously to help determine a racehorse's cause of death.
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Barometer of Health
Like human hair, horse hair makes a useful sample for mineral and other testing. During the period of growth, biochemical reactions take place that reveal cellular details within the hair itself, according to the Holistic Naturopath Center, including mineral imbalances and toxicities from aluminium, chromium, copper, lead, mercury and other substances. A 1990 Colorado State University study of the hair of 391 horses found multiple electrolyte imbalances and heavy-metal toxicities, according to Natural Veterinary Services, proving the technique can help horse owners better understand the health status of their animals.
Uncovering Inflammatory Issues
In addition to testing for heavy-metal toxicity and mineral imbalances, horse hair analysis can indicate chronic inflammatory problems. Feed deficiencies, medications and stress can lead to imbalances in a horse's body, and hair analysis typically helps reveal the problems that need attention. Permanent hair from the tail or mane can be tested, but usually mane hair is preferred because it produces more consistent results, according to Equine News.
Detecting Illegal Substances
Horse hair analysis also proves itself useful for sporting events, according to Equine News. Many illegal performance-enhancing drugs can be used in horses, including anabolic steroids, and enforced hair testing can help spot these abuses after competition. The benefits of hair testing include detecting whether drug misuse was short-term or chronic, and the results can later support the blood testing done before competition if a horse's blood work revealed irregularities.
Researching Prescription Meds
A 2003 study published in the Equine Veterinary Journal also points to hair analysis as a means to determine prescription drug use. Several horses treated for an ulcer and different types of infections were later tested to see if evidence of their prescription medications could be found in hair. The medication used in the horse with gastric ulcer was not detected in its hair sample, but the antibiotics and other drugs used for the horses with infections were detected in small concentrations. Researchers concluded that hair analysis could become a useful technique for detecting past prescription drug use in horses.
At least one famous racehorse's death was determined to be caused by arsenic poisoning, thanks to hair analysis. In 1932, the Australian champion Phar Lap died of suspected poisoning, but it wasn't until 2010 that researchers revealed the thoroughbred had been killed by high levels of arsenic, according to PhysOrg.com. A portion of Phar Lap's hide had been mounted for display in Melbourne, and researchers were able to gather enough hair samples to test them properly.
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- Equine News: Splittin' Hairs, Novel Investigations into Hair Analysis
- Holistic Naturopath Center: Trace Mineral Analysis
- National Institutes of Health: Hair Analysis as a Novel Investigative Tool for the Detection of Historical Drug Use/Misuse in the Horse
- Natural Veterinary Services: Holistic Health for the Horse; Prevention and Therapies
- PhysOrg: Hair Analysis Proves It: Legendary Racehorse Phar Lap Died of Arsenic Poisoning in 1932