Development and Evaluation of a Muscle Atrophy Scoring System (MASS) for Horses

Alisa C. Herbst, Mackenzie G. Johnson, Hayley Gammons, Stephanie E. Reedy, Kristine L. Urschel, Patricia A. Harris, Amanda A. Adams

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

7 Scopus citations


Loss of skeletal muscle mass likely compromises performance and welfare in horses and thus routine monitoring would be valuable. Currently available methods to assess muscle mass require expert knowledge and are often expensive. To provide a simple method, a muscle atrophy scoring system (MASS) was created and tested by three evaluators (raters) in 38 horses of varying age, breed, and health status. Inter-rater agreement on atrophy scores was in the good-to-excellent range for ratings of the neck (ICC = 0.62), back (ICC = 0.62) and hind (ICC = 0.76) regions but was poor for the abdominal region (ICC = 0.29). Due to this low agreement, the abdominal region was excluded from further analysis. Associations between muscle atrophy scores and age, pituitary pars intermedia dysfunction (PPID) status, and body composition indicators, including weight and estimated fat-free mass (FFM), were examined. Weight was inversely associated with neck, back and hind muscle atrophy scores (β = -0.008, β = -0.008, β = -0.009, respectively; all P <0.001), but estimated FFM was not associated with muscle atrophy scores at any region (P >0.05). Age was positively related to neck (β = 0.030, P <0.01), back (β = 0.037, P <0.001) and hind (β = 0.040, P <0.001) muscle atrophy scores. PPID-positive horses (n = 4) had higher muscle atrophy scores than PPID-negative horses (n = 23), even after adjusting for age (P <0.05). This data suggests that neck, back and hind region evaluations by individual raters likely have acceptable reliability. In addition, these findings support further evaluation of the potential benefits of the MASS to identify and monitor muscle atrophy in horses.

Original languageEnglish
Article number103771
JournalJournal of Equine Veterinary Science
StatePublished - Mar 2022

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
Conflicts of Interest Stetment: The authors of this article had no personal of financial relationships that could cause a conflict of interest.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2021


  • Age
  • Atrophy
  • Horse
  • Muscle
  • PPID

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Equine


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