Weekly Furosemide Use Doesn’t Disrupt Horses’ Long-Term Calcium Balance

Equine researchers recently found that calcium levels return to baseline within five days, suggesting that weekly furosemide administration in racehorses doesn’t lead to long-term calcium losses that might contribute to skeletal injuries.
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In her crossover study Pritchard compared calcium levels in five mature Standardbreds receiving furosemide and five not receiving the drug (controls). | Photo: Courtesy Abb Pritchard

Furosemide (aka Lasix) has long been a controversial race day drug in U.S. racehorses—not only for its potential performance-enhancing effects but also because studies have shown that it can alter horses’ calcium balance, a mineral that’s important for bone strength and muscle contraction.

“We usually use this term (balance) to refer to intake minus excretion,” said Abby Pritchard, a PhD candidate in Michigan State University’s Department of Animal Science, in East Lansing. “Essentially, we want this to be zero so we know that the horse’s requirements are being met without wasting or creating imbalances with other minerals.”

So Pritchard measured how long it takes a horse’s calcium balance to return to baseline after furosemide administration. She shared her results at the 2019 Equine Science Society Symposium, held June 3-6 in Asheville, North Carolina

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Alexandra Beckstett, a native of Houston, Texas, is a lifelong horse owner who has shown successfully on the national hunter/jumper circuit and dabbled in hunter breeding. After graduating from Duke University, she joined Blood-Horse Publications as assistant editor of its book division, Eclipse Press, before joining The Horse. She was the managing editor of The Horse for nearly 14 years and is now editorial director of EquiManagement and My New Horse, sister publications of The Horse.

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