All tied up? Managing ‘tying-up’ in horses

‘Tying-up’ – also known as exertional rhabdomyolysis (ER), azoturia or ‘Monday morning disease’ – can be a frustrating condition for horse owners and trainers to manage.

There can be a range of causes and the severity can vary from general poor performance to extensive muscle, and even kidney, damage. Knowing the underlying cause of ER can help owners and trainers to implement management strategies to help decrease the chance of recurrence. This can include appropriate nutritional management and supplementation.

What is exertional rhabdomyolysis and what are the signs?
ER is a process where the skeletal muscles break down following exercis

Typical signs include:
– Firm and painful muscles
– Stiff or awkward gait
– Reluctance to move
– Sweating
– Trembling
– Increased heart and respiratory rate
– Reduced urine output (may be red or brown in severe cases)
– Recumbency (in very severe cases)
– Poor performance (mild or recurrent cases)

What causes exertional rhabdomyolysis?

There are a wide range of potential causes of ER. When it occurs as a ‘one-off’, it is known as sporadic exertional rhabdomyolysis and identifying the trigger can help prevent repeat episodes. These triggers include:
– High carbohydrate diet – especially when this is mismatched to exercise levels
– Vitamin deficiency – especially antioxidants
– Electrolyte deficiency – after intense exercise and sweating
– Excessive exercise for fitness levels
– Dehydration
– Heat exhaustion

Optimising electrolyte and antioxidant management is important to ensure that the body has the nutrients it needs to perform and recover. Supporting recovery through nutrition can help in the management of ER. Refuel gel is an easy to administer syringe, kick starting your horses recovery following intensive exercise. Refuel provides balanced electrolytes, antioxidants vitamin E and C, and B vitamins. This combination promotes rehydration, supports the body’s own ability to counteract oxidative stress and enhances energy metabolism and appetite.

Equi-Lyte G is formulated to support performance and recovery providing horses with balanced electrolytes, with the added benefit of antioxidants Vitamin E and C. Equi Lyte G promotes optimal rehydration and recovery and is formulated for horses in strenuous daily work , provided in a highly palatable powder that can be added to feed. . .

When providing any electrolyte products it is vital that your horse has access to clean, fresh water to allow for complete rehydration.

Read more about electrolytes and exercise

Some horses are more prone to experiencing repeated ER and establishing the underlying cause in these horses can be challenging, but it may be due to a muscle defect. One example is recurrent exertional rhabdomyolysis (RER), which is thought to be linked to abnormal intracellular calcium regulation.1 Another muscle defect that can lead to ER is polysaccharide storage myopathy (PSSM)

Read more about PSSM.

RER is linked with several triggers including:

– Genetics
– Age
– Gender
– Fitness and exercise
– Temperament
– High starch diets

Research shows RER tends to be more prevalent in mares, with young fillies being most severely affected. The condition is also more prevalent in horses with nervous temperaments, and horses with underlying lameness. 1

What should I do if I think my horse is tying-up?

It’s important to call your vet quickly if you think your horse might have ER. They will likely want to take a blood sample to test for muscle damage. How they treat your horse will depend on the severity. Further tests will be required in cases of RER.

How can I prevent my horse from tying-up again?

For cases of sporadic ER, it is important to identify the trigger and address it accordingly.
– Feed according to the level of work – consider reducing hard feed on light work and rest days
– Reduce carbohydrates in the diet. If a high-energy diet is required, replace with an oil such as
Kentucky Karron Oil, a high-quality linseed emulsion with optimal bioavailability,
– Consider feeding a daily supplement high in antioxidant vitamins. Selenium supplementation can also
be beneficial; Muscle Max is high in both the antioxidant Vitamin E and selenium
– Change exercise routines gradually, and try to maintain consistent daily work
– Use recovery supporting products such as Refuel Gel
– Provide electrolytes daily or as required. Equi-Lyte G, is a powdered supplement that contains a
balanced combination of electrolytes – in addition to vitamin E and C– which support muscle
function and recovery
– Increase pasture turn-out if possible

Similar management changes can be made to help horses with RER. More specific management changes and treatments may be required for horses with repeated ER episodes, depending on the underlying cause.

For further advice on how Foran products can help you manage your horse’s specific needs, contact our equine experts.

1. Valberg, S., Equine Exertional Rhabdomyolysis, Conference Sponsors, 2005.

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