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Research probes body chemistry of mules

Dr Amy McLean examines a mule. Her pilot study on mules found some interesting cell count differences between mules and horses.

Dr Amy McLean examines a mule. Her pilot study on mules found some interesting cell count differences between mules and horses.

An equine specialist at North Carolina State University has been working to gather data on the body chemistry of mules to help improve their health care.

Mules are the offspring of female horses and donkey jacks.

Even though mules have worked alongside people for countless generations, there is a lack of basic information about mule blood chemistry, body temperature and other important health measures. This sometimes makes it difficult to provide proper health care for these beasts of burden.

Amy McLean, an equine specialist at North Carolina State, is trying to fill those gaps.

She and a colleague from Vanderbilt University conducted a pilot study that compared blood work in healthy horses and mules owned by the US Forest Service.

Perhaps counterintuitively, the study showed that mules – known in the equine family to be ruggedly healthy and more resistant to disease – have fewer soldiers in their disease-fighting arsenal than horses.

The study showed that mules had lower white blood cell, lymphocyte and monocyte counts than horses. These cells work to prevent infection and generally keep animals – and people – healthy.

Mules also had more mean corpuscular volume – a combination of red blood cell concentration and total red blood cells – than horses, suggesting that their strong will may also extend to anemia prevention.

Yet the research also showed that in most other blood-chemistry measures studied, mules and horses were quite similar.

McLean will present the study’s findings at the Equine Science Society symposium in Mescalero, in New Mexico, on May 28.

McLean is now working with European colleagues on a larger study comparing baseline blood chemistry of mules, horses, donkeys and hinnies, which are offspring of female donkeys and male horses.

That study will provide even more insight on equine blood chemistry and its parental influences, opening the door to better equine care.

 

Reporting: Mick Kulikowski

 

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