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Month: January 2020

Electrolytes Explained

Palm Beach Equine Clinic’s Dr. Meredith Mitchell Hustler Discusses the Role of Electrolytes in Performance

Intense training and hot climates can seriously impact any athlete’s hydration and electrolyte levels. Replenishing our equine athlete’s electrolyte levels can support them through training and recovery. A balanced electrolyte supplement may be one of your most valuable and understated tools to keep in your competition arsenal.

It’s Electric!

Electrolytes are chemicals that when dissolved in a polar solvent, such as water, form electrically charged particles called ions. The body of an average 1,000-pound horse consists of 65 percent water, making it the perfect environment for the electrolyte to perform its physiologic duties. Some of the physiologic functions electrolytes play a part in include but are not limited to:

  • temperature control and fluid transport across cell membranes
  • muscle and heart contraction
  • respiration and digestion
  • ion transport and signal transduction
  • renal and neurological function
  • thought and memory processes
  • energy production and glucose metabolism
  • gathering information from all the senses and transporting those messages to the brain and muscles, enabling everyday function and the innate fight or flight responses of the horse
Intense training and hot climates can seriously impact any athlete’s hydration and electrolyte levels. Photo by Jump Media

Why are Electrolytes Important?

The horse’s body is a complex and carefully balanced system comprised of different types of cells, tissues and fluids that continuously direct an array of electrical impulses. The fuel for this fundamental life process lies within the electrolyte. When you think of a happy, healthy horse, he is one who is eating, drinking and passing manure appropriately. Electrolytes are essential to achieve and maintain this. The main electrolytes found in the horse’s body are sodium (Na), chloride (Cl), potassium (K), magnesium (Mg), calcium (Ca), hydrogen phosphate (HPO42) and hydrogen carbonate (HCO3).

One of the main functions of electrolytes is to regulate nerve and muscle function by transmitting electrical impulses. Optimal muscle health and appropriate neuron communication increase the performance potential of all horses.

Replenishing our equine athlete’s electrolyte levels can support them through training and recovery.
Photo by Jump Media

With all the details of an electrolyte in mind, the key to maintaining a horse’s health and performance is achieving a balance. When there are imbalances, you run into trouble. Electrolytes are naturally excreted through sweating, feces and urine. However, if horses consistently excrete a high amount of electrolytes, there may be impacts on their health and performance.

Signs that a horse may be deficient in electrolytes include:

  • poor performance and depression
  • dull coat and sunken eyes
  • eating dirt or other horses’ feces
  • tying up
  • weight loss or ulcers

Common causes of an electrolyte imbalance include:

  • dehydration
  • diarrhea
  • excessive sweating and strenuous exercise
  • insufficient consumption of bio-available minerals

With a proper, high-quality nutrition program, the majority of horses are able to replenish their routine electrolyte losses. However, this does not always hold true for the performance horse that has a more strenuous training schedule. Electrolytes are not easily replaced by diet alone and made readily accessible for the body to utilize as the performance horse’s training schedule demands. This is where electrolyte supplementation plays an imperative role.

Dr. Hustler’s recommended electrolyte supplement, Summer Games Electrolyte by Kentucky Performance Products, is available through the Palm Beach Equine Clinic Pharmacy.
Photo courtesy of Palm Beach Equine Clinic

Supplementing Electrolytes

Horses are creatures of habit and thrive on consistency. Ideally, when supplementing electrolytes, you should give the same amount of powder or paste orally on a daily basis. This enables the horse to utilize what it needs to maintain homeostasis, and what is not needed will naturally be excreted. Electrolytes should never be “loaded,” as you may create an excessive imbalance and will inadvertently create an osmotic pull of water in the body to “go the wrong way,” causing dehydration. This principle of the osmotic pulling of fluids is why it is imperative to always give electrolytes with water and provide your horse with free-choice water.

Electrolyte supplements are an easy and cost-effective way to provide balance within the body. When choosing a supplement, select one that contains the essential electrolytes, and has low sugar content. Additionally, providing a free-choice salt block allows horses to instinctively re-balance their sodium and chloride levels.

The veterinarians of Palm Beach Equine Clinic recommend the Summer Games Electrolytes by Kentucky Performance Products, which can be purchased directly from the Palm Beach Equine Clinic pharmacy in Wellington, FL. The value and impact electrolytes have on your horse’s health and potential for peak performance are huge – and often overlooked – details that horse owners can’t afford to miss.

Dr. Meredith Mitchell Hustler.
Photo courtesy of Palm Beach Equine Clinic

About Dr. Hustler

Dr. Meredith Mitchell Hustler, of Ocean Grove, NJ, has grown up in the hunter/jumper community with a lifelong love for horses and equestrian sport. Dr. Hustler completed her undergraduate degree in Equine Science at Centenary University in Hackettstown, NJ. She then pursued her dream of becoming a veterinarian and graduated from Ross University School of Veterinary Medicine. During her clinical years Colorado State University, she became acupuncture certified in small animal, exotics and large animals. Her main interests in veterinary medicine are sports medicine, lameness, rehabilitation, acupuncture and alternative therapies. Outside of Palm Beach Equine Clinic she enjoys spending time with her husband, family, friends, and her three dogs.

When the Bone Breaks

Palm Beach Equine Clinic is Changing the Prognosis for Condylar Fracture Injuries

Palm Beach Equine Clinic is changing the prognosis for condylar fracture injuries in race and sport horses. Advances in diagnostic imaging, surgical skillset, and the facilities necessary to quickly diagnose, treat, repair, and rehabilitate horses with condylar fractures have improved dramatically in recent years.

Palm Beach Equine Clinic is changing the prognosis for condylar fracture injuries among sport horses.
Photo by Jump Media

Most commonly seen in Thoroughbred racehorses and polo ponies, a condylar fracture was once considered a career-ending injury. Today, however, many horses fully recover and return to competing in their respective disciplines.

What is a Condylar Fracture?

A condylar fracture is a repetitive strain injury that results in a fracture to the cannon bone above the fetlock due to large loads transmitted during high-speed exercise.

A condylar fracture is a repetitive concussive injury that results in a fracture to the cannon bone above the fetlock due to large loads transmitted over the cannon bone during high-speed exercise. On a radiograph, a condylar fracture appears as a crack that goes laterally up the cannon from the fetlock joint and out the side of the bone, essentially breaking off a corner of the cannon bone, sometimes up to six inches long.

“A condylar fracture is a disease of speed,” said Dr. Robert Brusie, a surgeon at Palm Beach Equine Clinic who estimates that he repairs between 30 and 50 condylar fractures per year. “A fracture to the left lateral forelimb is most common in racehorses as they turn around the track on a weakened bone and increased loading.”

Scan showing the screws inserted during surgery (right). This patient, a Thoroughbred racehorse, walked away from surgery comfortably and is recovering well.

Condylar fractures are further categorized into incomplete and non-displaced (the bone fragment hasn’t broken away from the cannon bone and is still in its original position), or complete and displaced (the fragment has moved away from the cannon bone itself and can often be visible under the skin).

Additionally, condylar fractures can occur laterally or medially. According to fellow Palm Beach Equine Clinic surgeon Dr. Weston Davis, most condylar fractures tend to be lateral on the outside condyle (a rounded projection on a bone, usually for articulation with another bone similar to a knuckle or joint).

“Most lateral condylar fractures are successfully repaired,” said Dr. Davis. “Medial condylar fractures tend to be more complicated configurations because they often spiral up the leg. Those require more advanced imaging and more advanced techniques to fix.”

What is the Treatment?

The first step in effectively treating a condylar fracture through surgery is to accurately and quickly identify the problem. Board-certified radiologist Dr. Sarah Puchalski utilizes the advanced imaging services at Palm Beach Equine Clinic to accomplish exactly this.

“Stress remodeling can be detected early and easily on nuclear scintigraphy before the horse goes lame or develops a fracture,” said Dr. Puchalski. “Early diagnosis of stress remodeling allows the horse to be removed from active race training and then return to full function earlier. Early diagnosis of an actual fracture allows for repair while the fracture is small and hopefully non-displaced.”

Surgical lag screws are used to reconnect the fractured condyle with the cannon bone.
Photo by Jump Media

Once the injury is identified as a condylar fracture, Palm Beach Equine Clinic surgeons step in to repair the fracture and start the horse on the road to recovery. Depending on surgeon preference, condylar fracture repairs can be performed with the horse under general anesthesia, or while standing under local anesthesia. During either process, surgical leg screws are used to reconnect the fractured condyle with the cannon bone.

“For a small non-displaced fracture, we would just put in one to two screws across the fracture,” explains Dr. Davis. “The technical term is to do it in ‘lag fashion,’ such that we tighten the screws down heavily and really compress the fracture line. A lot of times the fracture line is no longer visible in x-rays after it is surgically compressed. When you get that degree of compression, the fractures heal very quickly and nicely.”

More complicated fractures, or fractures that are fully displaced, may require additional screws to align the parts of the bone. For the most severe cases of condylar fractures, a locking compression plate with screws is used to stabilize and repair the bone.

Palm Beach Equine Clinic surgeon Dr. Jorge Gomez approaches a non-displaced condylar fracture while the horse is standing, which does not require general anesthesia.

A view of Palm Beach Equine Clinic’s standing surgical suite.

“I will just sedate the horse and block above the site of the fracture,” said Dr. Gomez. “Amazingly, horses tolerate it really well. Our goal is always to have the best result for the horse, trainers, and us as veterinarians.”

According to Dr. Gomez, the recovery time required after a standing condylar fracture repair is only 90 days. This is made even easier thanks to a state-of-the-art standing surgical suite at Palm Beach Equine Clinic. The four-and-a-half-foot recessed area allows doctors to perform surgeries anywhere ventral of the carpus on front legs and hocks on hind legs from a standing position. Horses can forgo general anesthesia for a mild sedative and local nerve blocks, greatly improving surgical recovery.

“A condylar fracture was once considered the death of racehorses, and as time and science progressed, it was considered career-ending,” concluded Dr. Brusie. “Currently, veterinary medical sciences are so advanced that we have had great success with condylar fracture patients returning to full work. Luckily, with today’s advanced rehabilitation services, time, and help from mother nature, many horses can come back from an injury like this.”

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