A safe, non-invasive method for the accurate measurement of bone mineral content in the third metacarpal bone of the horse is described. The technique involves scanning the bone with a single photon beam from an Americium-241 source. Data were obtained from the excised metacarpal bones from both forelimbs of 50 normal and seven lame horses. Measurements were made in vivo on eight normal and seven lame horses and on one experimental horse with osteopenia induced by partial weightlessness in a flotation tank. In the normal horses bone mineral content altered with age, particularly in the first six months of life. There were also differences according to the site of scanning on the metacarpus. The contribution of the splint bones to the total bone mineral content was less than 2 per cent distal to the mid-point of the metacarpus, but in the proximal shaft it increased to 12 per cent. No significant differences were noted either between right and left limbs, or between male and female animals. A reduction in bone mineral content was demonstrated in the affected leg of horses with chronic lameness and with osteopenia induced by weightlessness. The bone mineral content (g/cm) correlated well with the ash content (mg/100 mg dry bone weight), the specific gravity and the apparent transverse velocity of ultrasound (m/sec) through the bone. A measure of bone mineral density (g/cm3) was calculated from the bone mineral content and cross sectional area of the bone to overcome the individual differences in size of the metacarpus.
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