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To determine whether feeding a low-carbohydrate, high-fat diet would decrease severity of exercise-induced muscle injury in horses with exertional rhabdomyolysis.


19 horses with a history of exertional rhabdomyolysis.


Case series.


Specimens of the semitendinosus or semimembranosus muscle were obtained for histologic examination, and serum creatine kinase (CK) and aspartate transaminase (AST) activities 4 hours after exercise were determined. Horses were then fed a low-carbohydrate, high-fat diet, and serum CK and AST activities 4 hours after exercise were reevaluated at approximately monthly intervals for 3 to 6 months.


Serum CK and AST activities 4 hours after exercise were high before any change in diet. All 19 horses had evidence of chronic myopathic change and abnormal glycogen accumulation in muscle biopsy specimens; 11 horses also had evidence of complex polysaccharide accumulation. Adaptation to diet change required approximately 3 to 6 months. Sixteen horses did not have any episodes of exertional rhabdomyolysis after 3 to 6 months of diet change, and 3 horses had mild episodes of exertional rhabdomyolysis following either a reduction in dietary fat intake or restriction in exercise. Postexercise serum CK and AST activities 3 to 6 months after the change in diet were significantly less than initial values.

Clinical Implications

Results indicated that exertional rhabdomyolysis may be a result of abnormal carbohydrate metabolism in some horses. Feeding a diet with low carbohydrate and high fat content may reduce severity of exercise-induced injury in some horses with exertional rhabdomyolysis. (J Am Vet Med Assoc 1998;212:1588–1593).

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in Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association