Last Updated on May 22, 2022
From racehorses to showjumpers to working ranching horses, tying-up can affect any horse that is regularly worked. Treatment for tie-up in horses is vital to ensure the well-being of your horse. Without proper treatment, tying-up can potentially be life-threatening in horses.
Tying-up can be very painful for horses, so it is important to know the signs of it, how to manage it, and proper treatment. Though you are more likely to see it in horses that are athletes, it can happen to any horse at any time. It generally happens to horses with underlying muscle conditions, but that is not always the case.
What Is Tying-Up In Horses?
Tying-up, also known as rhabdomyolysis, is a condition that causes muscles in a horse’s back and rump to tighten and cramp up. When it happens the muscles cramp and do not relax. It is a serious condition and is not simple muscle soreness one may experience after exercising.
There are multiple causes that can lead to tying-up, some of which are inherited. Tying-up consists of multiple different diseases with similar signs and different causes. It can range anywhere from reluctance to lengthen the stride all the way to a horse being unable to move.
There are two main types of tying-up in horses: sporadic and chronic. Within the types of tying-up, there is recurrent exertional rhabdomyolysis (RER), polysaccharide storage myopathy (PSSM), and equine polysaccharide storage myopathy (EPSM).
Sporadic Tying-Up – Treatment For Tie-Up In Horses
Sporadic tying-up occurs when a horse has a single episode of tying-up. It occurs not because of an internal defect, but rather from exercise, environment, or diet.
Sporadic tying-up involves muscle stiffness and cramps from fatigue, heat exhaustion, or electrolyte imbalance. It is a temporary or occasional problem that can happen to any horse regardless of age, breed, gender, or discipline.
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Chronic tying-up is an internal problem that happens in the muscle itself. Though it can be triggered by exercise, diet or stress, it happens to horses with an underlying defect in muscle structure or function, leading to repeated episodes.
Chronic tying-up often begins at a young age and can lead to irreversible muscle damage over time. There are different forms of chronic tying-up including RER, PSSM, and EPSM. There is no cure for horses with chronic tying-up and some conditions are inherited through bloodlines.
RER – Treatment For Tie-Up In Horses
Recurrent Exertional Rhabdomyolysis (RER) is an abnormality in muscle contraction that occurs from excitement and exercise. The muscles in horses with RER react differently than those of normal horses. Some research shows that RER can occur because of abnormal regulation of calcium concentration found inside the cells of the muscle.
RER has been studied largely in Thoroughbreds as well as Standardbreds and Arabians. Quarter horses and warmbloods are also known to be affected as well too. Though excitement and exercise are the two main factors, stress, lameness, high-grain diets, and race training can trigger RER.
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PSSM or Polysaccharide Storage Myopathy is an abnormality that happens in the way muscle cells handle and metabolize energy. PSSM comes in two different categories PSSM Type I and PSSM Type II.
In PSSM Type I, glucose is packaged into glycogen incorrectly where it is then stored in excessive amounts in muscle. In PSSM Type II, glucose is stored incorrectly as “clumps” of glycogen. PSSM is most common in Quarter horses, Paints, and Appaloosas.
Horses with PSSM are able to use glycogen to fuel their muscles the same way normal horses can. However, the issue occurs as horses with PSSM take glucose from the bloodstream and deposit it into muscle tissue at a quicker rate than normal horses. This in return leads to PSSM horses creating more glycogen than normal horses.
EPSM – Treatment For Tie-Up In Horses
EPSM, equine polysaccharide storage myopathy, is a very similar condition to PSSM. It involves the misallocation of glycogen within muscle tissue. It mostly affects draft horses, draft crosses, and warmbloods.
Signs Of Tying-Up In Horses
Common signs to watch out for in horses that are tying-up include excessive sweating, stiffness, shortened stride, firm, painful muscles over the loin and croup, and rapid heart rate. Other symptoms include reluctance to move, unable to move, muscle spasms, shallow breathing, and dark urine. In more severe cases, a horse may lie down but then be unable to get back up.
For sporadic tying-up, these symptoms may occur when a horse was pushed past its physical capabilities, exercised hard on a hot, humid day or was depleted from electrolytes. For horses with chronic tying-up, these signs may occur at random or be triggered by environment, diet or exercise.
Treatment For Tie-Up In Horses
When a horse is experiencing signs of tie-up, always contact your veterinarian. Tying-up should be considered an emergency, especially when a horse has dark urine, reluctance to move and excessive sweating.
Treatments will vary by horse and the individual case of tie-up. Typically treatments include maintaining hydration, replenishing electrolytes, pain management, muscle relaxation and monitoring the situation.
For horses with sporadic tying-up, recommendations include providing a complete, balanced diet, receiving optimal levels of Vitamin E, selenium and electrolytes and being conditioned for their work level. In horses with chronic tying-up, veterinarians may come up with a plan based on the horse’s individual needs.
What To Do If Your Horse Ties-Up
If your horse is showing signs of tying-up, cease exercising your horse and call your veterinarian. Do not force your horse to walk and if it is cold, blanket your horse. If you think your horse is dehydrated, offer them a small amount of water.
Remove any grain from your horse’s stall and in most cases, remove hay unless otherwise instructed. If prescribed by a veterinarian, give your horse acepromazine.
Understanding Tying-Up In Horses – Treatment For Tie-Up In Horses
Tying-up can be a serious problem in horses that can be sporadic or chronic. Though there are multiple causes, it involves the muscles in a horse’s back and rump tightening and cramping up.
Do you have any questions regarding treatment for tie-up in horses? If so, please ask any questions regarding signs and treatment for tie-up in horses in the comments.
What to Feed a Horse That Ties Up?
If a horse is tying-up, remove any grain from your horse's stall and in most cases, remove hay unless otherwise instructed. Be sure to feed your horse a balanced diet to meet all of their nutritional needs.
How Long Does it Take for a Horse to Stop Tying-Up?
It may take horses up to 12-24 hours to get past an episode of tying-up. After that, the recovery can take several weeks depending on the severity of the tying-up.
What Causes Muscle Tying-Up in Horses?
Tying-up can be caused by exercise, environment and diet in horses. In horses with chronic tying-up, it can be from PSSM, EPSM or RER.
What Does Tying-Up Look Like in Horses?
Horses that are tying-up will often exhibit excessive sweating, stiffness, shortened stride, firm, painful muscles over the loin and croup and rapid heart rate. Other symptoms include reluctance to move, unable to move, muscle spasms, shallow breathing, dark urine and lying down but then be unable to get back up.