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Home:Equine Diseases:Equine Azoturia Disease

Equine Diseases - Azoturia

Description of Equine Azoturia

Azoturia can affect horses of any age but is much more common in fillies and mares than geldings and stallions. Azoturia is a condition that affects the horse's muscles in the from of stiffness and mild cramps regardless of age. Young horses can have one or two episodes only with no further problems. In some cases of Azoturia, the horse is unable to stand. Urine is discoloured. Azoturia can affect just one individual animal in a group even though they are all living under the same conditions. Azoturia can also be known as Equine Rhabdomyelosis or Monday Morning Disease.

Symptoms of Equine Azoturia


  • Pain over the hindquarter muscles.
  • Poor performance - in some very mild cases, poor performance is the only sign of the disease.
  • Severe pain in muscles
  • Perspiration
  • Increased respiration rate,
  • Increased pulse rate
  • Reluctance to move
  • Hard and painful loco motor muscles
  • Discoloured/Red Urine
  • Mild cases - stiffness and shuffling of hind limb gait.

Causes of Equine Azoturia


Causes of Azoturia are not clearly understood but possible causes are

  • Lack of Oxygen supplied by the blood - Some muscle fibres are larger, have greater glycogen stores and fewer surrounding blood vessels than others. Lack of oxygen supplied by the blood to these muscle fibres may increase the lactic acid production in these fibres. It is helpful to remember though that Azoturia normally occurs at the start of exercise, when these fibres would not yet be working and the Azoturia is not usually seen in horses with other conditions causing impaired circulation
  • Thiamine Deficiency - one of the B Group of Vitamins - Thiamine - acts in the removal of waste products from muscle activity. A shortfall in this vitamin therefore, could lead to a build up of these waste products and hence, lactic acid.
  • Vitamin E and Selenium Deficiency Although not clinically proven , some people have had success in preventing further episodes of Azoturia by giving Vitamin E and Selenium supplements.
  • Hormonal Disturbances - Reproductive hormones, thyroid hormones and cortisol have all been connected with Azoturia.
  • Electrolyte Imbalances - a urine test is necessary to assess levels of sodium and/or potassium deficiencies which could be involved in Azoturia.
  • Too much Carbohydrate: An example is a horse working all week, rested for the weekend on full feed, and when it returns to work some days later it suffers an attack of Azoturia. Popular thinking is that muscle glycogen accumulates during the days when the horse is not working and when work/exercise recommences, it produces excessive lactic acid which is not being removed as it should be. This causes local tissue damage and constriction of the blood vessels, exacerbating the situation and resulting in decreased blood flow to the tissues and further reduction in lactic acid removal.


Treatment of Equine Azoturia


The aims of all of the following treatments are to limit current muscle damage, prevent further muscle damage, reduce pain and anxiety, maintain fluid and electrolyte balance, and prevent kidney failure. See your vet as there are many diagnostic tests available to test for Azoturia such e.g. a urine test and a muscle biopsy.

•  A well-balanced diet commensurate with the ratio of work to rest i.e. enough food should to given to cope with the work required but it should be reduced during rest periods

•  Decreasing grain in the diet

•  Regular exercise

•  Relaxing training intensity

•  A long period of being turned out to grass

•  Riding the horse on grass

•  A blanket over the lumbar area in cold weather has been found very beneficial by many owners.

•  NSAIDS (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs) such as phenylbutazone and flunixin may be given.

•  Substances which alter the metabolism of minerals in the blood may be used.

•  Acepromazine may be prescribed to alleviate muscle spasm and increase blood flow.

•  Fluid therapy may be used either orally or intravenously in severe cases to counteract shock and to prevent kidney failure. .

•  Medication to alter the metabolism of minerals in the blood may be used.

•  A few day's rest period

•  Walking your horse