Azoturia is known by a number of different names including rhabdomyolysis, tying-up, exertional myopathy and setfast. It is a disease which is fairly commonly seen in horses and typically affects their hindquarters and back. The condition is seen most commonly in horses in training and occurs after a rest day on full rations followed by severe exertion. For this reason it has also been called “Monday morning disease” from when carriage horses were worked after a rest day on Sunday. It is known however to occur in any horse regardless of rest.
Damage to the muscles and tendons of the hindquarters and back gives rise to inflammation and pain in these regions. The actual reasons why horses develop this condition is not known. It appears that the disease can be related to excess energy intake with a low amount of exercise or to excess levels of certain salts in the blood.
In mild cases the first signs are of general stiffening or cramping of the hindquarters and back. Both hindlimbs are affected equally so the horse is unlikely to appear specifically lame. However, in more severe cases the horse may be unable to move and can even collapse; this may occur during exercise. Other signs may also be evident with affected horses showing colic signs such as “sweating up” and pawing at the ground.
How can I prevent azoturia?
Azoturia can be controlled by finding a balance between diet and exercise. Too much high energy feed with too little exercise can spell trouble. Your veterinary surgeon will be able to give you advice on appropriate regimes for both feeding and exercise as well as what to do if your horse has recurrent episodes.
In the most severe cases a horse may develop signs during exercise. On no account should the horse be forced to complete the exercise regime or hack. Transport back to the yard by vehicle should be considered if access is possible. If you are at all unsure what to do, contact your veterinary surgeon immediately.