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What is DSLD?

"Degenerative Suspensory Ligament Desmitis " or as recently named: ESPA "Equine Systemic Proteoglycan Accumulation."
Recent research has found DSLD/ESPA to be a systemic connective tissue disease that affects tendons and ligaments throughout the body. The accumulation of proteoglycans are found in the affected tissues. Affected tissue can include tendons and ligaments of the legs including the patella, also the nuchal ligament, eyes and aorta.

Although DSLD has been around for over 20 years, a great many people don't know about it. That's one of our major problems.
We are finding that a lot of veterinarians and people involved in research are not familiar with DSLD, the Protocol, the symptoms, what to look for in an examination, and where to look for information on the latest on-going research on the subject.

The symptoms of DSLD/ESPA are varied.  A telling sign may be an enlarged suspensory with disruption of tissues and lesions shown on ultrasound.  However, in early stages, ligaments may be enlarged but look normal in fiber without lesions. The recognizable disruption and lesions don't always appear until late in the problem. Without using the latest Protocol, today's testing methods are not adequate to verify absolute presence of DSLD-ESPA. Even ultrasound, without the operator/ reader being trained to look beyond " Disruptions and Holes" for size differences and actually make measurements, can lead to missed diagnosis for DSLD/ESPA.

Other symptoms include dropped pasterns, heat and swelling in the fetlocks, unexplained lameness and false colics. Some horses will not show dropped fetlocks, but a more upright presentation, and the lameness may not be severe. Post legged stance, muscle wasting, walking wide behind, standing in holes, stiffness when first getting up, moving slowly like they are arthritic, stumbling, knuckling forward in the fetlock joints, sitting on fences or the feed bucket, and failing a flex test on two or four legs, are also seen as the problem progresses.

Many of the owners of these horses donít know what is wrong with them or think it's normal for an older broodmare or stallion to present these symptoms. In some cases it may be normal, but without an ultrasound test you can't tell the difference.

At present there are four crucial steps in diagnosing DSLD-ESPA:

  1. 1. Palpate the leg for pain

  2. 2. Observe the horse for lameness as he moves freely

  3. 3. Assess soundness using a Flexion test

  4. 4. Do an ultrasound, look for holes, disruptions, size differences and make measurements.

The only absolute verification we have now is resection at necropsy.  The next best is ultrasound using the Protocol. The ultimate is having a gene test, which is where most research is now focused.

To find out more about the latest research and horses diagnosed with DSLD, please visit:  http://www.dsldequine.info/

Past and present Veterinarians and PhD's involved with DSLD/ESPA research

Wheat, JD
Pryor, PB
Pool R, DVM, PhD
Mero, JL, DVM
Young JH, DVM, CF
Cothran, Gus PhD
Wolf, Alice, DVM, Diplomate,
ACVIM, ABVP, Professor
Halper, Jaroslava Md. PhD
Asst. Professor
Morton, Alison DVM, MsP VS
Asst. Professor




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