Tying-Up in Horses: Causes and Management

In this article, we’ll discuss some of the specific causes of exertional rhabdomyolysis (ER) or tying-up, along with methods that can be used to prevent repeat episodes. of tying-up in horses. predisposed to recurrences.
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Perhaps the most frustrating of all problems that affect the athletic horse is the syndrome known as tying-up. Tying-up is a broad term that frequently is used to describe a wide variety of muscle disorders that affect the performance horse. Other names given to this syndrome include exertional rhabdomyolysis, Monday morning disease, and azoturia. Historically, the commonality of the clinical signs associated with an episode of tying-up led to the conclusion that all horses showing evidence of muscle cramping and soreness have the same condition. However, research over the past decade or so has clearly shown that there are a number of specific disorders that fall under the umbrella term tying-up. This research has provided a much better understanding of the causes of tying-up and has led to improved methods for prevention of recurrent episodes. Much of this research has been conducted at the College of Veterinary Medicine, University of Minnesota.

In this article, we will discuss some of the specific causes of exertional rhabdomyolysis (ER) or tying-up, with particular attention to methods that can be used to prevent repeat episodes of tying-up in horses predisposed to recurrences.

What Is Tying-Up?

The clinical signs of tying-up are varied, depending on the severity of the episode. In mild cases, affected horses will be somewhat stiff after exercise. At the other end of the spectrum, the intense pain associated with severe and generalized tying-up might incapacitate a horse to the point that it is unable to stand and bear weight. During exercise, affected horses develop a short, stiff stride; these signs can worsen if exercise is continued. Upon stopping, horses often are very reluctant to move and might adopt an unusual stance; males frequently posture as if to urinate. The muscles of the hindquarters usually are the most severely affected. This area will be firm and painful, and cramping is evident when these muscles are palpated. Other signs that the horse is painful include profuse sweating and persistently elevated heart and respiratory rates. The pain persists for several hours after the onset of a tying-up episode.

Tying-up in endurance horses might occur as a single entity or as a component of the “exhausted horse syndrome.” In the latter, additional clinical signs include depression, severe dehydration, hyperthermia, and “thumps” (synchronous diaphragmatic flutter). Some endurance horses might develop extensive muscle damage without concurrent signs of muscle cramping

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