Group Title: Bulletin University of Florida. Agricultural Experiment Station
Title: Big-head
Full Citation
Permanent Link:
 Material Information
Title: Big-head (osteo-porosis)
Series Title: Bulletin University of Florida. Agricultural Experiment Station
Physical Description: p. 49-63, 4 p. of plates : ill. ; 23 cm.
Language: English
Creator: Bitting, A. W ( Arvill Wayne ), 1870-1946
Publisher: Florida Agricultural Experiment Station
Place of Publication: Lake City Fla
Publication Date: 1894
Copyright Date: 1894
Subject: Osteoporosis   ( lcsh )
Horses -- Diseases -- Florida   ( lcsh )
Mules -- Diseases -- Florida   ( lcsh )
Genre: government publication (state, provincial, terriorial, dependent)   ( marcgt )
non-fiction   ( marcgt )
Statement of Responsibility: A.W. Bitting.
General Note: Cover title.
 Record Information
Bibliographic ID: UF00026776
Volume ID: VID00001
Source Institution: University of Florida
Holding Location: University of Florida
Rights Management: All rights reserved by the source institution and holding location.
Resource Identifier: ltuf - AEN0334
oclc - 18151454
alephbibnum - 000919942

Full Text


The publications in this collection do
not reflect current scientific knowledge
or recommendations. These texts
represent the historic publishing
record of the Institute for Food and
Agricultural Sciences and should be
used only to trace the historic work of
the Institute and its staff. Current IFAS
research may be found on the
Electronic Data Information Source

site maintained by the Florida
Cooperative Extension Service.

Copyright 2005, Board of Trustees, University
of Florida

Bulletin No. 26. October, 1894.





The Bulletins of this Station will be sent free to any address in Florida
upon application to the Director of the Experiment
Station, Lake City, Fla.



HoN. WALTER GWYNN, President . . . ... .Sanford
HoN. W. D. CHIPLEY, Vice-President ...... Pensacola
SI HON. F. E. HARRIS, Ch'n Executive Committee ... Ocala
HoN. A. HAGAN, Secretary . . . . .. Lake City
HON. S. STRINGER . . . . ... Brooksville
HON. S. J. TURNBULL . . . . . Monticello
HON. C. F. A. BIELBY . . . . . .. .DeLand


0. CLUTE, M.SLL. S LL. D . ........ . .Director
P. H. ROLFS, M. . ....... .Horticulturist and Biologist
A. A. PERSONs, M. S . . . . . ... Chemist
"C. A. FINLEY. . . . . . Director's Secretary
A. L. QUAINTANC, M. S . . . Assistant in Biology
H. K. MILLER, M. S . . . .. .Assistant in Chemistry
JOHN F. MITCHELL . . . Foreman of Lake City Farm
J. T. STUBBS . . Supt. Sub-Station, DeFuniak Springs
W. A. MARSH . . . .Supt. Sub-Station, Fort Myers

A. W. BITTING, B. S Special Investigator of Animal Diseases
Veterinarian of Indiana Experiment Station, Lafayette, Ind.



Big-head ........ .......... 53
History and Distribution . . . . . ... 53
Nature of the Disease . . . . . . . 54
Is the Disease Contagious? . . . . . . 56
Transmission by Heredity. . . . . . . 57
Susceptibility and Immunity . . . . ... 57
Cause ....... ............,. 58
Symptoms and Characteristics . . . ... .. . 58
Post Mortem . . . . . . . ... .60
Treatment . ... ............... 62


Fig. 1.-This is a typical case of Osteo Porosis. or Big Head, in a two-year-old colt. The bones of the face,
ower jaw, and shoulder are greatly enlarged. The body has changed from a round barrel to a very flat-sided shape.
rhe back is arched upward.

Fig. 2. Fig. 3.
Fig. 2.-This cut shows the rounded condition of the face, due to enlargement of the bones of tLe face. The
Object is five years old, and in the early stage of the disease when photographed.
Fig. 3.-Represents the head of an animal that has made a recovery.(?) Th ADnaR o l. .. -

Fig. 4.
Fig. 4.-Shows the effects of the disease upon the bones of the leg while young. Both fore legs are crooked an
not flexed. The animal made a recovery, and had a second attack at nine, producing an increased enlargement of
the lower jaw and;shoulder. Photographed at ten.

Fig. 5.
fig. ,.--Shows the oharaeteristio drou of the croup and a straight back.

Fig. 6. yearss old.)
Fig. 6.-Represents the bones ot the head of a six-year-old horse affected with the disease.

Fig. 7.
"Fi'. 7.-TRnrantssy th n fHmnnr hona

AL !

Fig. 8. (8 years old.) Fig. 9. (9 years old.)
Fig. 8.-Represents the bones of an eight-year-old animal.
Fig. 9.-Representa the bones of a nine-year-old animal affected with big shoulder.


i f

"Fig. 10. (4 years old.) Fig. 11. (Healthy.)
Fig. 10.-Represents the bones of a 4-year-old horse.
Fig. 11.-Represents the head bones of a healthy horse.



OSTEO-POROSIS is a disease that is commonly called Big-
head or Big-shoulder. These two terms have been used
because they are expressive of very prominent symptoms.
Big-head is used when the bones of the face and lower jaw
become very prominent. Big-shoulder is used when the
shoulder is the seat of the affection. In a very few instances
the term Big-stifle has been used. The majority of those that
use these terms are not aware that they are being applied to
the same disease.
The term Osteo-porosis literally means porous bone, and
is descriptive of a condition that exists in the bones of an
affected animal. Big-head is the most common form of the
disease. To avoid confusion of terms this one will be retained
throughout this bulletin. It will be used to embrace Big-
shoulder and Big-stifle.
The first account of the disease published in English was
by Varnell, in England, in 1860. It would therefore appear
that the disease has not been recognized, or not understood,
-for a very long time. Since that date numerous articles have
appeared upon the subject. The earliest account that
.appeared in this State relative to the disease was in the
Florida Agriculturist, Vol. 1, page 2, May 15, 1878. It is
there described under the term Osteo Sarcoma. Several articles
have been written by local observers, especially for the
agricultural columns of the Times- Union. By inquiry it was
learned, from the oldest residents, that they could not remem-
ber a time when the disease was not present.


The disease is very widely distributed, occurring in
nearly all parts of this country and in foreign countries. It is
found under all climatic, soil, and food conditions, and, there-
fore, cannot be due to any one local cause. It is not uniformly
distributed, being of very rare occurence in some places, and
altogether too common in others. This can be as truly said
of the disease in this State as in the country as a whole.
The disease is one that interests a large proportion of the-
horse raisers and importers of horses in the State. I have seen
cases, or received reports of the disease, from the following
points: Milton, Carrabelle, Tallahassee, Monticello, Live Oak,
"Welborn, White Springs, Lake City, Baldwin, Fort White,
Gainesville, Arredonda, Archer, Churchill, Citra, Anthony,.
Ocala, Floral City, Tampa, Palmetto, Miakka, Bartow, Grand
Island, Eustis, Umatilla, Sanford, Paola, Belair, Maitland,
Apopka, Orlando, Oviedo, Kissimmee, Narcoossee, Titusville,.
Sand Point, Palatka, Ponce deLeon, DeLand and Mannville.
It will be seen by looking on a map of the State that it
has a very general distribution. Some parts of the State were
not visited, which may account for not having more complete
data. At some of these places the disease is very rarely seen,
while at others the conditions for its development are so
favorable that no attempt is made to rear colts. It will be
seen, also, that it occurs upon the highest as well as the lowest
lands, where hard water is obtainable as well as where soft
water is used; in fact, it may occur under every condition in
the State.
Big-head is generally regarded as affecting only horses
and mules. Whether other animals are or are not sometimes
affected, might be open to controversy. As young cattle, hogs
and dogs are occasionally afflicted with Rickets, it would be
well to compare their symptoms and the bones of their
Big-head may attack horses or mules of any breed and at
any age. Young animals are more susceptible than old ones..
In the older animals-past eight-if they are accustomed to
hard or jerky work, it may assume the form called Big-shoulder.
Mules are less susceptible to the disease than horses, and the-
termination is more favorable.

By some Big-head or Big-shoulder is regarded as a local
disease, and they treat it as such; in fact, such belief is quite
general. Although some cases do have the appearance of
being localized, it would be better to assume that all the phe-
nomena could not be seen rather than to pass judgment that
it was local. Of the large number examined, but few have
presented only local symptoms. The local enlargement may
be all that can be seen at one time, but at another or later
other symptoms will be present.
The following, from the Times- Union, is fairly representa-
tive of the views held by stock men as to the cause and nature
of the disease:
"Big-head is caused nine times out of ten by blind teeth.
These are superfluous teeth that appear just in front of the
upper jaw teeth, and are in appearance like the bridle teeth
(so-called) that appear between the jaw teeth and the front teeth.
They penetrate the nerves of the eye and face, and cause Big-
head. Big-head occurs in two forms: one as an enlargement
just under the eye, just over the blind tooth. The other as a
peripatetic lameness, which appears in one leg today, and an-
other at another time, and goes from one leg without apparent
cause. This form is accompanied by general constitutional
disturbance, dejection and poverty.
"The first step in either case is to extract the blind teeth.
If the enlargements have appeared under the eyes, let them
alone for!a few months; they will often disappear in a few
months after the teeth have been extracted. If they do not
disappear, but form abscesses, cut into the abscess through the
thin bone and inject tincture of iodine into the orifice as long
as it can be kept open." *
Several definitions have been formulated descriptive of
the disease so far as it pertains to the effects upon the system.
They do not agree in every particular. *Williams says:. "The
disease is due to the development of the vascular and fibrous
structure of the bones without a corresponding growth of the
true osseous and cartilaginous elements."
tRochitansky defines it as follows: "Osteo-porosis con-
sists of the excessive development of the tissues which occupy
the canals and cells of bones; whilst at the same time the
quantity of bony matter remains unchanged.
*The Principles and Practice of Veterinary Surgery, p. 195.


"tt"Osteo-porosis is an absorption of the interstitial elements
of the bone." The last definition comes more nearly being a
correct statement than those preceding.
This is one of the first questions asked when called upon
for advice. No experiments have been conducted to settle this
question. As far as possible, the history of each case was
taken, and from these the following will serve to illustrate the
various conditions under which it has occurred:
In stables at logging camps and phosphate mines one or
two horses out of fifty to one hundred head would be affected
and others never contract the disease.
Diseased animals are constantly being driven to the vil-
lages, where they are tied to racks with other horses. No other
animal may contract the disease.
Colts and adult animals may become affected although
always having been isolated from other animals of their own
After one horse suffering from the disease has been intro-
duced upon the farm, others have taken it where all had pre-
vion lv been healthy. On one farm the disease was introduced
in 1888, and has remained there ever since. Nine horses and
mules have died, three have been given away, and two have
the disease now, Recruits become affected soon after being
taken there. No difference could be detected between this
place and others in the vicinity, except that everything was in
better condition. The disease had never been known prior
to 1888.
Four horses died successively in one barn. It burned; a
new one was built some distance from where the old one stood.
No animals have died since.
After one outbreak on a farm there seems to be greater
danger of a second following.
Sometimes the disease assumes an enzo-otic form, several
horses on the same farm or neighborhood becoming affected.
When the disease does occur as an enzootic it runs a more
uniform course than in the sporadic cases; recovery or death
being the termination in from two to five months. Three such
outbreaks were observed. Eleven animals in the same vicinity
+tDunglison's Medical Dictionary.


being affected in one summer, in the first; eight, and seven in
the second and third respectively.
The fact that the question of its contagiousness is so often
asked is indicative of a suspicion that it is. The evidence is
not conclusive to prove either side.

But few facts could be obtained to determine whether the
disease, or a predisposition to the disease, could be transmitted
by heredity. These, however, are of considerable importance.
A Kentucky-bred stallion was imported at the age of two
years. He became diseased and recovered at four years. The
bones of his face remained permanently enlarged, but not un-
sightly. He was used for ten successive years, and so far as
known none of his colts were ever affected. He again became
affected at the age of fourteen. If he should ever be able to
beeed again the result will be watched with much interest.
A colt died with the disease at the age of eighteen months.
"The sire had only recently recovered from an attack. No further
information was obtainable regarding his get.
In another case the sire was diseased and died. One of
his colts had the disease and died at two, another at three
years, and two others have the disease, but are still alive.
In an importation of seventeen mares fourteen became
affected and died before the end of three years. Every colt
they produced is believed to be dead.
In three cases, where the mares were affected and died,
the colts have been affected and two died. The disease may
be present at birth or occur in a year or two after.
In view of these facts, it must appear unwise to use ani-
mals for breeding purposes that have once been affected.
There is little difference as to the susceptibility of native
and imported stock. Some affirm that none but native ani-
mals are ever affected, and others are equally as certain
that only imported animals suffer. Native horses suffer from
the disease at an early age-usually under six years-and as
colts, under three. Imported horses become affected in from
one to three years after arriving. Those brought from the


Southwestern States suffer more than those 'brought] from
Northern Tennessee and Kentucky.
A horse under eight is more susceptible than one over that
age. One with a large, loose bone less resistive than one with.
hard, smooth bones.
One attack does not confer immunity against another.
No animal can be said to be immune to the disease.
The cause of the disease is generally said to be idiopathic
or unknown. It is attributed to a malassimilation of food, the
nature of which is not understood. This might serve to
explain some cases, but will hardly be found satisfactory for
all. Where the disease is slow in its progress, or occurs with
the development of the body, such might answer. When it
occurs as an enzo-otic, several animals being affected simulta-
neously and under different conditions, and the disease acute
in its nature, it does not seem to be sufficient. A better expla-
nation cannot be offered here.
Lack of lime salts is often offered as a cause. There
seems to be good reason for this, and yet the disease is found
in those parts of the State where animals have access to lime
water as well as in the other where only soft water is obtain-
able. In one locality every attempt to raise a colt has resulted
in failure.
A team of imported carriage horses was fed on imported,
hay and grain, yet became affected.
With the digging of deep wells thus avoiding the surface
water, which always contains much organic matter, there is
believed to be a decrease of the disease.
As blind teeth are so often held to be the cause of the
disease, and are the objective point of so much treatment,.
inquiry was directed toward finding the proportion of affected
animals that possessed these bodies, and thus dissuade some
from inflicting unnecessary and useless pain upon their beasts.
Of twenty-eight cases examined for these teeth eleven were
found to be without them. Neither did the extraction of the
teeth have any appreciable effect upon the course of the disease.
The disease presents itself under such a variety of forms that
the symptoms of any one case will not serve for all. The dis--

ease may be very insidious in its attack and mild in nature, or
it may be very acute and rapidly fatal. One of the first
symptoms noticeable is the dropping of the croup. This
becomes more and more marked as the disease advances. It
is usually a symptom that goes unobserved by most people.
Following this is weakness of the back and enlargement of the
bones of the face or lower jaw, when it assumes the form of
Big-head, or of the shoulder, when it is known as Big-shoulder.
Excessive development may occur in one or all of these bones.
at the same time. Other bones may show thickening or
excessive roughness. The ribs gradually change so that a
round-barreled horse becomes flat-sided and a tendency to
.hang heavy below. The back becomes straight, and the
younger the animal the greater the tendency to become
elevated or arched.
Simultaneously with these bony changes are other symp-
toms, some of them much more apparent to the eye. A
peculiar lameness precedes or accompanies all the processes.
The lameness comes on very suddenly, at first very difficult to
locate, appearing at one time to be in one joint, and found in
another when an exainunatipi is made. There is no heat,
swelling or pain over any p:part to locate it. We simply know
the animal is lame. The lameness is of a very migratory
character, being in one limb one day and in another the next.
The lameness ceases as quickly as it comes. The animal
assumes a very peculiar gait. There is little shoulder move-
ment, the steps are short, executed as if there was stiffness in all
the joints; the hind legs are carried further under the body than
natural, thus giving the appearance of kidney trouble. Many
poor animals are made to suffer from drenches for kidney'
disease and blisters over the back as the result of a mistaken
In the milder forms the appetite remains about normal,
and the animal is capable of doing fair work. In other cases the
appetite persists, but the animal is incapacitated for work. The
general condition remains fair until after the disease has made-
severe inroads in the bony system. Decline then begins and
is rapid. The temperature in the mild form is from 100.5 to
102 degrees. The pulse and respirations are normal. The
animal can be easily exhausted on work that ordinarily would.
be light.



The disease often abates in activity for several days, weeks
or even a couple of months or more. This seems to be the
tendency in most cases, and gives rise to reports of cures that
are without foundation. Some of those who make a busi-
ness of treating the disease take advantage of this, and return
the animal to the owner at an opportune time to make a good
In acute cases these symptoms are more severe and follow
each other in rapid succession.t
In the enzo-otic outbreaks the disease may attack some of
the animals very feebly and only partially, discommode them
for a month.
One attack does not confer immunity from a second.
The bones, or part of them, are found to be enlarged and
cancellated. The hard surface gives way to small, roughened,
brittle eminences. The large bones are more affected than the
.solid, compact ones, yet the latter do not wholly escape. The
hard layer on the outside becomes channeled out until it is but
little stronger than the inner part. The heads become very
spongy, in many instances separate from the shafts. The
articular surface of the vertebrae may separate from the body.
The sutures in the head become more open, so that in a horse
of five or six they may show as well as in a colt of three or four
months. The marrow of the bone becomes changed from a
bright pink to a duller, yellowish-red hue. In consistency it
resembles albumen, and when the bone is sectioned it comes
out as if under pressure. There is little or no fat in the bone,
although there may be considerable in other parts of the body.
This becomes very evident when the bones are permitted to
bleach in the weather. The mineral elements are reduced in
quantity. The cartilages over the articular surfaces may be
involved, and either reduced in thickness or completely worn
away. The inter-articular ligaments are abnormally devel-
oped, especially in the small of the back (lumbar region.) The
roughening of the bony surface seems to be largely for the
purpose of giving them additional support. The ribs, in long
tThere is soreness and often swelling of the joints and inability to get up or lie down. The
"temperature often rises to 103 or 104 degrees F. Loss of appetite and emaciation follow.
Fracture of the bones is very easy. In one case seventeen ribs were fractured in lying down.
Death is nearly always the termination.


continued cases, approach a cylindrical form. The cranium
is not involved except in young animals. In these the bones
may thicken unevenly and produce strange mental manifesta-
tions. They may also bulge forward, as in cases -of hydroce-
phalus. Roughening of the neural canal has also been ob-
served. Tendons sometimes break from their attachments.
Fractures tend to heal with more rapidity than in healthy
The blood, liver, kidneys, spleen, and other glands of the
body were studied, but nothing that could be considered char-
acteristic of the disease was found.
Analysis of the urine to determine the escape of mineral
salts was only given a brief test. The indications are that the
escape of such salts in mild cases, if they do escape by the
kidneys, is too slow to make an appreciable difference.
The most noticeable change was in the large quantity of al-
bumen that was present. During the course of the disease the
urine is but little affected in color, odor or quantity.
In acute cases the urine becomes so modified by the fever
and other constitutional disturbances that analysis of it was of
little value. Furthermore, the variations in normal urine
may be as great as in that of the diseased subject.
While the greater part of the work upon this disease was
in progress the Station was not equipped for making a study
to determine the presence or absence of bacteria. Only in
the last animal that was killed was such a study possible.
Bacteria were found in the jaw, shoulder (Humerus), ribs and
vertebrae. Whether this presence was accidental (due to any
other diseased condition of the body), or peculiar to this dis-
ease, could not be determined. Only future study can tell.
Although a germ theory is not held concerning this disease, it
is well worth investigating.
Big-head is sometimes confounded with other diseases.
Not every case of obscure lameness is due to Big-head. En-
largement over the face may be temporary and occur at den-
tition, or be due to a diseased tooth. This can be told by a
careful examination of the teeth. Rheumatism is similar to
Big-head in its attack, and in its disappearance from one part
of the body to occur in another. In Rheumatism there is
always local evidence of the disease. A weak back may result
from many causes. It is only by making a close study of all


the symptoms of Big-head that a differentiation can be made
between it and other diseases.
We are not prepared to offer a treatment that can be con-
7sidered a cure. If it has been shown with sufficient clearness
that the disease is not local but general, and that a treatment
which has for its end a local effect will not be sufficient, some-
thing has been accomplished. The boring of holes in the
side of the face or jaw, filling them with arsenic, iodine, caustic
potash, or applying a hot iron, can have but a local effect upon
the disease. They can produce intense pain and suffering.
These remedies, with the knocking out of teeth, and setons
arethemeansused by "Big-head" doctors. Some horses do make
a temporary recovery and a cure is reported. The change of feed,
attention, better care and rest are more potent factors in bring-
ing this about than the treatment. This intermittent character
or abatement of active changes may occur in any case. As a
rule, it is only of short duration. Big-head will probably
make most improvement by turning out to pasture, if the
pasture is good, and allowing rest for five or six months. This
should be supplemented with a liberal supply of lime, or lime
water (hard water.) The lime can b administered in the form
of lime water by dissolving a few lumps in a barrel. The
water, if not stirred or shaken, will only contain a certain
amount, and may be used without doing any harm. If it is
stirred or shaken it will hold an excess in suspension and
cause alkalinity of the stomach and irritation of the mucous
membranes. The most successful means of administering the
lime is in the form of the dicalsic phosphate. This can be
obtained as a fertilizer, and is made from bones, such as used
at glue factories, treated with lime water. An example of
such fertilizer is Banner Bone, made by the Michigan Carbon
Works. It is inexpensive as compared with calcium phosphate
that is sold at drug stores for such purpose. It is neutral,
readily soluble in the juices of the stomach, and can be given
with the food. One or two tablespoonfuls a day will be suffi-
cient. There is no danger of an overdose, but trouble in
the kidneys or bladder might arise if more is administered.
It is a fine powder and odorless and tasteless, so that stock
will eat it willingly with other food.


Over Ithe enlarged bones of the face spirits of turpentine
-or a very mild blister may be applied occasionally.
The feed should consist of oats and bran as the concen-
trated feed in the place of corn. Root crops can be used to
good advantage.
For imported horses more care should be given to them
for the first two years than is ordinarily bestowed. The
practice of importing the horses to handle the tourist trade in
the winter, and then selling them to work in the groves
as soon as that business is over, is putting them to work that
is too severe at a time when they are not acclimated. If they
-could be given a little less work the first year they would fare
much better.
The use of water from a deep well, instead of from lakes
or open holes six or eight feet deep (erroneously called wells),
is advisable as a preventive measure against this disease as
well as many others.
No animal that once becomes affected ever wholly
recovers from the effects.
Avoid purchasing horses with coarse bones or naturally
rounded faces.
Better save your money, and not invest in prescriptions
-or patent preparations.

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