Nutrition Can Help Manage Tying-Up in Sport Horses

Thanks to advances in identifying specific causes of tying-up, development of diagnostic tests, and improved recognition of the impact of diet and exercise on horses that tie up, affected horses can be successfully managed. Stephanie Valberg, DVM, PhD, professor of large animal medicine and director of the University of Minnesota's Equine Center, relayed this message during her talk "The Management of Tying-Up in Sport Horses: Challenges and Successes" presented at the 2010 Kentucky Equine Research Nutrition Conference held April 26-27 in Lexington.

Tying-up (exertional rhabdomyolysis) is a relatively common condition of skeletal muscle tissues characterized by muscle pain, a stiff, stilted gait, excessive sweating, and distress. A wide variety of breeds are affected, including warmbloods, Thoroughbreds, Standardbreds, Arabians, Morgans, Quarter Horses, Appaloosas, and Paints.

"To date, multiple causes of muscle diseases have been identified that vary from something as innocuous as lack of conditioning to more serious genetic abnormalities such as hyperkalemic period paralysis (HYPP), glycogen branching enzyme deficiency (GBED), malignant hyperthermia (MH), and type 1 polysaccharide storage myopathy (PSSM1)," explained Valberg.

Nutritional factors are known to impact tying-up. For example, horses fed a high grain diet appear more likely to tie up than horses fed a low-grain or fat-supplemented diet. Further, electrolyte depletion in athletic horses and potentially low selenium and/or vitamin E levels are also thought to contribute to the development of sporadic cases of tying-up.

According to Valberg, an important component of managing sport horses that tie up is diet. However, diet changes always need to be combined with a regular exercise program to be successful.

"A nutritionally balanced diet with appropriate caloric intake and adequate vitamins and minerals is the core element of treating all forms of tying-up," emphasized Valberg. Low-starch, high-fiber, high-fat diets are beneficial for many horses with tying-up.

"In the future, we anticipate that new forms of tying-up, and new tests capable of diagnosing specific causes for tying-up, will be identified," said Valberg. "In turn, diet and exercise regimes will continue to evolve to create tailor-made regimens and could therefore be devised to address the needs of individual horses."

More information on the conference and the presentations is available from KER.

About the Author

Stacey Oke, DVM, MSc

Stacey Oke, MSc, DVM, is a practicing veterinarian and freelance medical writer and editor. She is interested in both large and small animals, as well as complementary and alternative medicine. Since 2005, she's worked as a research consultant for nutritional supplement companies, assisted physicians and veterinarians in publishing research articles and textbooks, and written for a number of educational magazines and websites.

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