No link between US race-day drug and horse breakdowns, say experts

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No current science links the drug furosemide to any muscular or skeletal issues that may be contributing to equine breakdowns in racing, a panel of experts says.

Furosemide is widely used in the horse racing industry in North America but is banned on race days in all other countries. Many racehorses in the US and Canada are given furosemide a few hours before racing to reduce the risk of bleeding into the lungs.

However, it is a controversial treatment because there is evidence the drug may enhance performance because of its diuretic effect. Horses pass large amounts of urine in the hours following its use, meaning they can race at a lighter weight.

Critics of its use are concerned the drug may be being used primarily to enhance performance, rather than reduce bleeding in racehorses.

The Scientific Advisory Group of the Association of Racing Commissioners International (ARCI) has spoken out on the matter, saying there is no link between its use and equine breakdowns in racing.

The group told a meeting of the ARCI’s Drug Testing Standards and Practices Committee that its members had discussed the issue at its meeting on April 2 and were not aware of any published studies or papers providing any evidence of such a link.

The Scientific Advisory Group members participating in the meeting were Dr Scot Stanley, Dr Heather Kynch, Dr George Maylin, Dr Ken McKeever, Dr Cynthia Cole, Dr Mary Robinson, Dr Rick Sams, and Dr Thomas Tobin.

“There remains an attempt on the part of some organizations and individuals to leave the impression that the current equine welfare policy of permitting the voluntary race-day use of furosemide under controlled and transparent circumstances is somehow tied to the tragic equine deaths that have occurred at Santa Anita and elsewhere,” the association’s president, Ed Martin, said.

“The ARCI is never averse to examining an existing policy and we were concerned that such statements might be based upon solid scientific information we have yet been able to analyze.

“Apparently, they are not.

“Our science advisers were asked to review this matter and make us aware of any new information that might be relevant to the equine tragedies that have occurred,” he said.

In 2011, after two officers within the association called for the phase-out of race-day furosemide treatments, an industry debate on the issue was reignited.

The Drug Testing Standards and Practices Committee conducted a review of the existing policy and held a public hearing.

Input was received from a variety of experts, including Dr Edward Robinson from the Center for Integrative Toxicology at the Veterinary Medical Center at Michigan State University (MSU). He is a recognized expert in the study of animal lung dysfunction, particularly equine airway disease. He directs the Equine Pulmonary Research Laboratory at MSU which is dedicated to studying diseases of the airways of the horse.

After completion of that review, the committee decided that there was insufficient science to justify change to the current policy.

The rationale the association’s current furosemide policy was strengthened by a 2014 consensus statement from the independent American College of Veterinary Internal Medicine published in the Journal of Veterinary Internal Medicine entitled “Exercise Induced Pulmonary Hemorrhage in Horses”.

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