The pathophysiology of endotoxaemia, a leading cause of death in the horse, is beginning to be understood in greater detail. Endotoxin may be absorbed into the systemic circulation in a number of different ways: most commonly the body's normal defense mechanisms are disrupted or bypassed, or the normal clearance mechanisms overwhelmed. Following this widespread effects are observed, although the most significant are seen in the cardiovascular system. Fever, arterial hypoxaemia and signs of abdominal pain are also common. With increased understanding of the disease new therapeutic agents have become available, however, while the newer agents offer some advantages it is important to recognise that supportive care is the mainstay of treatment for endotoxaemia.
Supportive care consists of aggressive fluid therapy (crystalloid, colloid and hypertonic), the administration of non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs and, where appropriate, antimicrobials. The principles of supportive care are discussed in detail. Other therapies such as hyperimmune plasma, polymyxin B, pentoxifylline, dimethyl sulfoxide and heparin are commonly used in the treatment of equine endotoxaemia and their use is reviewed here. Furthermore, newer agents such as anti-tumour necrosis factor antibodies, detergent, activated protein C and insulin, which have yet to gain widespread acceptance but may have an important role in the treatment of endotoxaemia in the future, are examined.