Effect of diet on Thoroughbred horses with recurrent exertional rhabdomyolysis performing a standardised exercise test



Previous studies have associated recurrent exertional rhabdomyolysis (RER) with a diet high in soluble carbohydrate (CHO). The purpose of this study was to investigate the effect of 3 diets on clinical and metabolic parameters in 5 Thoroughbred horses with RER and 3 healthy Thoroughbreds performing a standardised exercise test (SET). Two diets were formulated to meet energy requirements for the amount of exercise being performed in the form of CHO or fat (21.4 Meal DE/day). The third diet was formulated to provide 135% of the DE of the other 2 diets in the form of an excessive amount of carbohydrate (28.8 Meal DE/day). Diets were fed in a crossover design for 3 week blocks and then horses performed a near maximal SET. Changes in heart rate (HR), plasma lactate, plasma glucose, total plasma solids, packed cell volume (PCV), muscle lactate and muscle glycogen concentration were measured immediately prior to, during, and 5 min after exercise. Serum creatine kinase (CK) activity was measured prior to and 4 h post SET. A 2-way ANOVA was used to examine the effect of group and dietary treatment. When dietary treatments were compared, horses fed the high-CHO diet had a mean pre-SET PCV and pre-SET HR that was higher than horses fed the fat diet (P=0.06 and P=0.07, respectively). Pre-SET heart rates were highest in RER horses consuming the high-CHO diet compared to RER horses consuming the low-CHO and fat diets (P = 0.02). Horses with RER had 4 h post SET CK activity greater than 400 u/l in 7/14 (50%) measurements compared to control horses which had CK activity greater than 400 u/l in 2/7 (29%) measurements. This study did not demonstrate a significant effect of diet on rhabdomyolysis, indicated by CK activity, or on the metabolic response to exercise. However, diet may have a calming effect on Thoroughbred horses with RER as manifested by decreased pre-exercise heart rates and decreased pre-exercise PCV in horses fed the fat diet.