The Equine Athlete

I had the pleasure, this past weekend, of being the veterinarian on call out our local rodeo. The horse, cattle and human athletes put on an excellent show and fortunately, the heat subsided in time for everyone to enjoy the evening! When preparing for the evenings events I focus on many possible injuries and disorders. Two dangerous disorders are dehydration and “tying-up” in horses.

Dehydration, in any species, can be very dangerous and potentially fatal. Although most of us understand dehydration as a lack of fluid, usually from exertion, hot weather or both. Dehydration can become very dangerous when electrolytes, like chloride, sodium, potassium, and calcium, become depleted and out of balance in the body. Electrolytes are responsible for numerous bodily functions including muscle function in your body and heart, brain function, and kidney health. Kidneys also can be heavily stressed during dehydration and, in severe cases, damaged during a dehydration episode.

“Tying-up”, or Exertional Rhabdomyolysis, can be a progression of dehydration in a horse and is a very serious condition where a horse overworks their body and their muscles become damaged, very taught, swollen and painful. These horses struggle to walk, can assume unusual positions to try and get comfortable and tend had dark red urine from their damaged muscles. Other hereditary, equine muscular disorders can also lead to a chronic form of tying – up.

Both conditions can be avoided with proper conditioning and making sure equine athletes stay well hydrated during events. Both dehydration and tying-up can be damaging and potentially fatal if they go untreated. Consult your veterinarian immediately if you suspect your horse is experiencing either condition. Treatment typically consists of anti-inflammatories, specific forms of sedation for muscle relaxation, fluid therapy with electrolyte supplementation and controlled rest.

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