Furosemide 'Myths' Discussed at HBPA Convention

Furosemide 'Myths' Discussed at HBPA Convention

Panelists said there is no scientific evidence supporting a ban on the use of furosemide--used to treat exercise-induced pulmonary hemorrhage--on race day.

Photo: Anne M. Eberhardt/The Horse

Panelists gathered Jan. 14 for a National Horsemen's Benevolent and Protective Association (HBPA) forum said there is no scientific evidence supporting a ban on the use of furosemide on race day.

The National HBPA, like most horsemen's groups a staunch supporter of the use of furosemide, known as Salix or Lasix, to control the respiratory condition exercise-induced pulmonary hemorrhage (EIPH). The organization is holding its winter convention in Hollywood Beach, Fla., through Jan. 16. The National HBPA Medication Committee regularly holds forums on issues of current interest.

The National HBPA has come out in support of a model rule calling for administration of furosemide by regulatory veterinarians only on race day. The organization opposes a ban on the drug on race day.

Steven Barker, MSc, PhD, chemist for the Louisiana State Racing Commission, sought to dispel what he called industry "myths" surrounding Salix. He said that contrary to some claims, Salix does not interfere with testing for other drugs when blood is tested; Salix isn't performance-enhancing; Salix is effective in treating EIPH; and that it can't be proven use of the drug is "denigrating" the Thoroughbred breed.

Barker said studies that determined Salix is performance enhancing are flawed because they didn't consider other drugs that may have been in the study horses' systems, and there was no record of when furosemide was administered. In North America the drug is widely administered to horses four hours before a race.

"The science has to be taken with a grain of salt in some cases," Barker said. "Some facts have been left by the wayside. Some say Lasix is denigrating the breed. What's the science on that? Nothing. This myth is complete fiction, having not merit or scientific data to support it."

Mark Dedomenico, MD, a heart surgeon who operates Pegasus Thoroughbred Center in Washington state and owns champion 3-year-old filly Blind Luck, was unable to attend the National HBPA convention but instead addressed horsemen through a video he had made on use of Salix in racehorses. Dedomenico said he wouldn't race a horse without Salix.

Dedomenico said heart rates in horses can range from 40 to 220 beats per minute during races, meaning their blood pressure increases rapidly. He said if that happened in humans, they most likely would stroke.

He also said each time horses bleed in the lungs, they build up scar tissue. "More than 90% of horses bleed into their lungs," he said. "It shouldn't be acceptable."

Thomas Brokken, DVM, a racetrack veterinarian for about 40 years, said when furosemide was first used in horses in the 1970s, it was obvious the drug would be helpful for racehorses. The four-hour administration rule came about as it was legalized in various racing jurisdictions.

"Things that work stick around, and things that don't work don't stick around," Brokken said. "Lasix is injectable--that's the only problem we have with it, honestly."

Brokken challenged claims that vets make a lot of money giving Salix shots to racehorses. He said there are 16 vets in his practice, and about 4% of their gross take is from administering pre-race medication.

"Will (a race-day ban) hurt us? No," Brokken said. "Will it change the way we treat horses? Absolutely."

Thomas Tobin, MVB, MSc, PhD, MRCVS, DABT, a professor at the University of Kentucky Gluck Equine Research Center and medication adviser to the National HBPA, cited research indicating EIPH is more related to stride and its impact during races than exercise. He also said fluid reduction in horses helps them perform optimally.

About the Author

Tom LaMarra

Tom LaMarra, a native of New Jersey and graduate of Rutgers University, has been news editor at The Blood-Horse since 1998. After graduation he worked at newspapers in New Jersey and Pennsylvania as an editor and reporter with a focus on municipal government and politics. He also worked at Daily Racing Form and Thoroughbred Times before joining The Blood-Horse. LaMarra, who has lived in Lexington since 1994, has won various writing awards and was recognized with the Old Hilltop Award for outstanding coverage of the horse racing industry. He likes to spend some of his spare time handicapping races.

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