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Over the past five years, vet Stephen Ashdown has written many articles, spoken on equine matters and contributed widely to horse magazines.

Here he reproduces in the form of questions and answers about 100 topics, all of them common problems which afflict horses.

To access Topics click on Vet Advice Menu.

Advice for azoturia
Q. My 15.2hh French Trotter is now 18 years old but i've only owned him for two years.

We recently took part in our first endurance competitions and he seemed very fit for a while. Then I noticed he seemed to be more lethargic than usual and gave him a few days off.

He was blood tested and found to be suffering from mild anaemia which we treated. Everything seemed fine after that until one hot afternoon we went out for a hack. Then he suddenly stopped dead as if to stale, but was unable to do so, and I realised he was having an attack of azoturia.

Eventually I got him home and he was treated by the vet, but a few days later the same thing happened again, and now he doesn't seem right. I am being given conflicting advice about what to do next - I don't know whether to rest him or exercise him, or whether he needs ant-inflammatories or some homoeopathic treatment. Can you give any advice?

A. The sort of problems you are experiencing are by no means uncommon and it is so often difficult to determine why a horse becomes suddenly susceptible to muscle damage. However, the first thing to note is that your horse was ill or off colour before the attack of azoturia. It is possible that he had a mild virus problem, causing the anaemia and lack of energy. It is known, for example, that herpes virus infection can predispose horses to azoturia, and so it would seem possible that a virus of some type might have been involved here in the past.

I would therefore recommend that, as well as supplementing with iron, you give an immune stimulating mix of herbs containing, for example, echinacea, or tropical herbs. For anaemia you should also consider a course of iron which is chelated, making it easier for the body to absorb.

As for the azoturia attack, it is often difficult to know whether it is the damage that has already been done that is predisposing your horse to further problems, or whether it is the root cause of the first attack that is still present. It would seems to me that the latter is true.

Some azoturia is congenital, meaning that there is a natural tendency in the horse's genes to always get the disease.

In such situations there are drugs which can help stabilise the cell membranes in the muscle which is getting damaged.

Your own vet can discuss these matters with you. However, I think it is likely that other alternatives may be more useful. You should consider the use of chelated mineral supplements that increase the supply of magnesium, potassium and calcium for your horse. In addition a supply of fenugreek seeds can help to protect muscles and prevent further damage and a supply of vitamin E and selenium could be important.  Some herbs have potent antioxidant action and can also be extremely useful.

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