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FEBRUARY 2012 THE RIDER /17 Report on Research Studying Heart Disturbances in Horses The Beat Goes On -

Story by: Jackie Bellamy Normal heart rhythm and sounds in a horse are difficult to define because of the fascinat- ing array of strange sounds and rhythms which can be found in apparently healthy animals and which change with exercise. Also, even when sounds or rhythms do reflect heart prob- lems, most horse owners will not notice signs, until there is an inability to perform work at a level previously achieved suc- cessfully, when the horse shows an unusual tendency to tire. Owners of performance horses understand the economic impact of a horse that can no longer work, or in the worst- case scenario, where sudden loss becomes a serious issue. University of Guelph researcher Dr Physick-Sheard states, “After safety issues and welfare issues are discussed there is still a need to put an economic value on the horse, which is decided by the client”. One aspect of research Dr. Physick-Sheard and Dr. Kim McGurrin look at is atrial fibrillation, the most common clinically significant rhythm disturbance horses can have. An arrhythmia is techni- cally defined as an abnormal heart rhythm, however, irregular heart rhythm is commonplace in horses and the endeavor to define normal, continues to be a complex and fascinating jour- ney. A completely steady rhythm can be considered abnormal.

Before a diagnosis of heart problems can be made, Dr.

Physick-Sheard explains, a logi- cal process where the client is asked the history of the horse (breed, use, how long it has been in training) is followed before conducting a general physical examination. Future use would also be discussed before deciding on diagnostics. An Electrocardiogram may be the next step to determine the heart’s rhythm and possibly an ultrasound to look at how effi- ciently the muscle and valves work. They look for enlarge- ment or abnormal structure in the heart and check for normal blood flow around the valves.

stant: dehydration, electrolyte and acid base imbalance. Under these circumstances secondary arrhythmias are often detected. Situations where the cardiac problem is primary are rare but sometimes serious.

McGurrin and Physick- Sheard have had enormous suc- cess treating arrhythmia with transvenous electrical cardiover- sion. The response rate has been 100%! Electrodes are placed into the heart to deliver an elec- tric shock, while the horse is under anesthesia, to convert the rhythm to normal.

tion and OMAFRA.

Web Link: ws/index.php?content=315

Links to the Utube Videos: Report on Research: ?v=fXI3Q0pMl34&lr=1&fea-


Help for Horse Owners: guelphuofg#p/c/595FECA4463 07F6A/0/BQSdkSsbmE8

At Right:

Dr. Physick-Sheard describes two types of rhythm disturbance that can be found:

1. Benign variations on normal (mostly involving the top part of the heart).

2. Ventricular rhythm distur- bances, which can be serious and even life threatening. When found, they look first for problems outside the heart, disturbances in homoeostasis, which involves keeping the environment around cells con-

Dr. McGurrin and Dr. Physick-Sheard developed this technique before their first Stan- dardbred track study, where they collected heart rhythm data during racing using an electro- cardiogram. Dr. Physick- Sheard explains how the tech- nology works, “The heart is a bag of muscle, a slave pump which does what the system tells it, contracting at a rate that reflects the body’s needs. The heart gives off an electrical sig- nal when it contracts which reaches the skin and can be detected by the electrocardio- gram (ECG). This is then used to monitor heart rhythm.” Dr. Physick-Sheard has developed specialized equip- ment and software for the cur- rent intensive Thoroughbred study, which he is hoping will give more insights into causes of sudden death.

Research funding has been provided by Equine Guelph, Grayson Jockey Club Founda-



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