Dynamic obstructions of the equine upper respiratory tract. Part 1: Observations during high-speed treadmill endoscopy of 600 Thoroughbred racehorses


Departments of Clinical Veterinary Science, Langford, Bristol BS40 5DU, UK.


Reasons for performing study and objective: To review the prevalence of single and complex forms of dynamic airway obstructions within a large group of Thoroughbred horses in training referred for investigation of poor performance.

Methods: Video-endoscopic recordings of the upper respiratory tract made during a standardised treadmill exercise test of 600 Thoroughbred racehorses were reviewed and analysed in real time and slow motion to identify dynamic collapse by the tissues bordering onto the pharyngeal and laryngeal airways.

Results: Dynamic collapse within the nasopharynx or larynx was confirmed in 471 of the 600 horses. Dorsal displacement of the soft palate (DDSP; 50%) and palatal instability (33%) were the disorders most frequently identified. It was concluded that deglutition is not a significant event in the triggering of DDSP. Complex forms of dynamic collapse were present in 30% of the horses with upper respiratory tract obstructions. A significant influence of age on the prevalence of DDSP and dynamic laryngeal collapse was identified. There was an increased risk of DDSP in younger horses, and of laryngeal collapse in older horses. No association with gender or format of racing was identified.

Conclusions and potential relevance: Palatal instability and DDSP comprised the most frequently encountered forms of dynamic collapse within the upper respiratory tract of the Thoroughbred racehorses in this study and are probably expressions of the same nasopharyngeal malfunction. Complex obstructions, i.e. where more than one structure collapses into the airway, occur frequently and therefore treatments that address solitary disorders may often be unsuccessful. Younger horses were found to be at greater risk of sustaining DDSP while older horses seemed more at risk to vocal cord collapse but not to collapse of the arytenoid cartilage itself.