Determination of the prevalence and severity of metacarpophalangeal joint osteoarthritis in Thoroughbred racehorses via quantitative macroscopic evaluation

Richelle H. Neundorf, MSc; Mark B. Lowerison, BSc; Antonio M. Cruz, DVM, MVM, MSc, DrMedVet; Jeff J. Thomason, PhD; Beverley J. McEwen, DVM, PhD; Mark B. Hurtig, DVM, MVSc
American Journal of Veterinary Research
November 2010

Objective—To determine the prevalence and severity of osteoarthritis in the metacarpophalangeal joints of Thoroughbred racehorses via development and validation of a quantitative macroscopic evaluation system. Sample Population—Metacarpophalangeal joints from 50 Thoroughbred racehorses. Procedures—Joints were collected from horses that died or were euthanized within 60 days of racing. Metacarpophalangeal joints were assessed for osteoarthritic degeneration by use of macroscopic and histologic scoring systems, polarized light microscopy, and cartilage biochemical analysis. The global macroscopic score for the entire metacarpophalangeal joint was based on factors that reflected the size and severity of lesions as well as the involvement of weight-bearing surfaces. Results—One-third of all 2- and 3-year-old horses had partial-or full-thickness cartilage lesions and osteoarthritis. Osteoarthritis severity increased until age 6 in this population. Significant correlations were found between macroscopic grade and age, cause of death, glycosaminoglycan depletion, and loss of superficial cartilage zone polarized light intensity. Conclusions and Clinical Relevance—The macroscopic system devised for this study had good correlations with quantitative methods. Two-and 3-year-old horses had full-thickness cartilage lesions that may have been career limiting. Year-to-year attrition and a small population of older horses may have led to underestimation of the prevalence of osteoarthritis in older horses. The macroscopic scoring system was reliable when used by nonexpert and expert users.