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Animal HealthNews

Test to prevent unnecessary foal deaths launched

Foal Immunodeficiency Syndrome (FIS), a genetic disorder which is known to affect Fell and Dales ponies, causes foals to become anaemic and prone to opportunistic infections. Sadly, any foal born with the syndrome will not survive.

The new diagnostic DNA test, which costs £40, is the result of ten years of research by the Animal Health Trust (AHT) and the University of Liverpool. The test will not only identify foals which have the fatal condition but will highlight adult ponies who are carriers of the genetic trait which causes the syndrome. Affected foals will be prevented by avoiding breeding a carrier mare with a carrier stallion.

Owners and breeders who wish to find out the genetic status of their ponies can arrange for a simple pulled mane or tail hair sample to be taken by a vet and submitted to the AHT. The Fell Pony or Dales Pony Societies will supply sample bags for submission on request.

A fast-track system to identify foals suffering with the condition will report results within three working days.

The team who has developed the DNA test was led by the AHT’s Dr June Swinburne and Professor Stuart Carter of the University of Liverpool with research student Laura Fox-Clipsham. They believe that by using the test, owners and breeders will eventually be able to eradicate this awful condition.

Dr. June Swinburne, said: “The DNA test gives owners and breeders the power to overcome this devastating illness. It enables them to make informed decisions about which ponies to breed. We have already had samples submitted by HM The Queen from her own breeding stock of Fell ponies. I’d urge any breeders of Fell or Dales ponies to submit samples in order to arm themselves with the facts they need to prevent the birth of affected foals and thereby avoid this distressing condition.”

Professor Carter, said: “The research, and ultimately the DNA test, has only been possible thanks to funding from The Horse Trust and the support of the Fell Pony Society and the Dales Pony Society who have supplied DNA samples. We consider that the efforts of all involved in enabling this research have lead to a major advance in animal welfare.”