Succeed Succeed

Using the SUCCEED® Equine Fecal Blood Test™ as a screening test for GI tract disorders

Written by Emma Hardy, PhD

Gastrointestinal disorders of the horse may prove to be a proverbial thorn in the sides of veterinary surgeons in practice. The conditions are fairly common, yet remain challenging to diagnose.

The issue is made all the more frustrating by the fact that the vast majority of the equine GI tract is inaccessible to visualisation, leaving vets to symptoms and treatment response as their “go to” diagnostic methods. In these cases, use of the SUCCEED® Equine Fecal Blood Test™ (FBT) as an initial stable-side screen test can be a highly useful adjunct in establishing a differential diagnosis for GI tract disorders. The FBT helps the clinician to rule in or rule out GI tract pathology, as well as identifying where along the GI tract such an issue may exist, at least broadly. FBT test results can help direct the vet to the most appropriate next steps of diagnosis and treatment.

GI Tract Diseases are Common

To meet the demands of performance, the husbandry and diet typical of the competition horse leaves it most susceptible to GI tract conditions. Equine Gastric Ulcer Syndrome is almost ubiquitous in these horses, and knowledge surrounding the aetiologies and best treatment options continue to be better understood through ongoing research. However, it has also been established that gastric ulcers can seem to affect some horses indiscriminately – including those not in work and even those out at pasture. Clearly, what may cause ulcers in one horse may differ from the cause in another.

Digestive disorders beyond the stomach also bear significant consideration for the horse and are rapidly coming into focus for vets and their clients. Emerging research led by Professor Derek Knottenbelt at Glasgow vet school shows that large colon pathology is more significant and widespread than many previously believed. Knottenbelt found that, even in ostensibly “normal” horses, up to 70% demonstrated some degree of hindgut pathology on post-mortem (Knottenbelt, 2015).

GI Tract Diseases are Challenging to Diagnose Definitively

Disturbances to the health of the gastrointestinal tract can elicit a range of symptoms and signs. Some are easily recognised, such as weight loss, diarrhoea, and poor condition, but others may be more difficult to identify. At the same time, such symptoms may also be associated with various other health conditions. When faced with more ambiguous signs, such as behavioural changes, deterioration in performance, or changes in gait quality, the route to diagnosis can become even more complicated, protracted and costly.

When diagnosis and implementation of treatment are delayed, not only is recovery time affected, but symptoms – and their underlying cause – may worsen, leading to the need for more aggressive treatment approaches, a reduced likelihood of successful outcomes, or both.  As a result, the ability of the veterinary surgeon to accurately and easily detect an issue as early as possible within the pathogenesis of disease is crucial.    

Early screening with the Succeed FBT aids differential diagnosis

When clinicians are faced with what are perceived to be low-risk horses or those with symptoms not typically associated with GI tract conditions, diagnosis can be further delayed by some of the limitations in current methods of detection. Some techniques are subject to a lack of sensitivity, non-specificity, subjectivity of images and data, and difficulty in the physical reach and access to areas of interest without involving surgical procedures or otherwise putting the animal at risk. Being able to screen for inflammation and bleeding, easily, rapidly and non-invasively, can narrow down and focus the next diagnostic steps. This is where the SUCCEED® FBT becomes invaluable.  

The SUCCEED® FBT is a rapid stable-side test which detects equine occult haemoglobin and albumin in a faecal sample. Akin to thermometer, the FBT is a sensitive but non-specific screening test to indicate an anomaly within the gastrointestinal tract and dependent upon results, help warrant or negate additional diagnostic techniques, and avenues for treatment options. The SUCCEED® FBT can be used in a variety of situations to rule in or rule out GI tract conditions, both when a problem is suspected but also particularly when symptoms may be nonspecific or ambiguous. The test is also routinely used where symptoms suggest gastroscopy may be useful. By detecting gastric bleeding using the SUCCEED® FBT, the clinician can be confident that the scoping procedure is an appropriate next step to locate and grade ulceration.

The SUCCEED® FBT should be the first step taken by vets in all investigations, whether GI tract pathology is suspected or not. This simple but highly sensitive test can provide vital information about the health of the GI tract in 15 minutes or less. This equips the vet to formulate a clearer diagnostic plan from which treatment options are likely to be more targeted and therefore most effective, and achieve a better overall outcome for all involved.