About that Lasix study…

OK, anybody who knows me knows I can’t possibly let the lasix study go by without giving my opinion on it. For those of you who haven’t seen it, a bunch of American veterinarians decided to actually do a real study on whether or not Lasix actually reduces bleeding in racehorses. Americans have been pumping their horses full of the stuff for the past 30 years or so based on purely anecdotal evidence that it has any effect on the problem. So now, finally, there is a study. Here’s the bad news: Guess what, it seems to actually reduce the incidence of bleeding, giving ammunition to those who justify its use and think racing can’t possibly live without it.

But before you allĀ  jump on the “I told you so” bandwagen and call the rest of the world barbarians for not using it, let me point out there are some very important factors in this study that need to be considered. First, and most importantly, the study did not investigate any detrimental side effects that might be associated with repeated use of lasix. Secondly, researchers admitted they still had no idea HOW the administration of lasix actually reduced bleeding; the drug also acts as a bronchodialator, which means it might be possible that it simply reduces the flow of blood to the area seen when scoping a horse after the race.

All thoroughbreds bleed a bit in the lungs during a race or strenuous workout. (Humans do, too; that’s why you end up having a coughing fit if you run too fast when out of shape.) Most of this bleeding is benign, and can be managed by having a horse fit and ready to do the job at hand. Exterior factors like pollutants and temperature can play a roll, but managing stress and maximum fitness are the most important factors for limiting damaging bleeding. The study, conducted in South Africa by Colorado State University, classified the severity of bleeding between zero and 4, with 4 considered a severe bleeding episode. It found that 80 percent of the horses given a saline solution showed evidence of bleeding, while 55 percent of the horses given Lasix showed bleeding. So yes, while the incidence was reduced, HALF THE HORSES GIVEN LASIX STILL BLED. The study also showed that Lasix was most effective in limiting severe bleeding; none of the horses in the study given the drug had a Level 4 bleeding episode, but 10 percent of the saline control group did.

The study said it considered the conditions of horses trained in South Africa to be pretty much the same has horses trained anywhere else in the world. “Although racing and training conditions in other parts of the world do differ from those in South Africa in minor respects, we do not have any evidence that any of these differences
have been demonstrated to have an impact on the frequency or severity of EIPH,” or exercised-induced pulmonary hemorrhaging, the study said. I’ve never been to South Africa, but I have observed horses in training in England, Ireland, the United States, Dubai, Hong Kong, France and Germany, and I can tell you that there are HUGE differences in the way horses in these countries are trained. Considering how susceptible the modern thoroughbred is to the smallest differences in environment, I cannot imagine how the difference in conditions would not make a difference on bleeding during a race.

The study notes that 92 percent of horses in North America are treated with Lasix, making it a $100 million a year market. It concludes that the drug is really most effective only with severe bleeders. Surely, 92 percent of North American horses can’t possibly fall into this category. If so, there are problems with thoroughbreds far greater than Lasix can help. Oh, and by the way, horses treated with Lasix lose THREE TIMES MORE WEIGHT during a race than a horse not treated with Lasix. So is this really the most humane way to race? Let’s hope racing officials around the world don’t buy into Lasix – or at the very least, let’s see some more study as to how it really works, and what the detrimental effects might be. Race day for horses around the world should not start with a syringe.

12 Replies to “About that Lasix study…”

  1. Thanks for taking the lead in pointing out what this study does and does not consider. Given how the U.S. drug industry operates – why would studies of medication for animals be any different than those for humans? It’s a corrupt, profit-driven cess pool.

  2. “A bunch of American veterinarians?”

    The study was undertaken by three university researchers, two of them from institutions outside the United States. The horses studied were owned, trained and raced in South Africa.

    While the study was funded by a number of different organizations (including from the U.S., such as the Grayson-Jockey Club Research Foundation), and I’m sure Lasix proponents in the U.S. are applauding (I’ve blogged that one myself) it is quite disingenuous to describe the study as being in any way the work of “a bunch of American veterinarians.”

    It’s actually exactly the sort of science and research horse racing needs more of, to determine what works, what doesn’t, and whether the benefits derived (if any) are worth the potential pitfalls.

  3. Glenn, I applaud that a real study actually did finally happen, if 30 years too late, and it was supervised by an American, an Australian and a South African, so your point is valid that “a bunch of American veterinarians” might be too flip. I thought your blog entry was great. My head exploded when I saw the ways this is getting spun – as you pointed out. I’m afraid people are going to look at this as a validation of lasix, which for me it certainly was not.

  4. As someone who has been intrigued by the American love affair with Lasix, I find it very interesting that bleeding during a race evidently doesn’t impact the rest of the world as it does American racing. Case in point, there have been no studies on EIPH or Lasix conducted outside the US – you can’t really count this South African study – it was designed and funded by entities in the US. This study could easily have been conducted in the US, except that they couldn’t find any trainers willing to allow their horses to be used as guinea pigs.

    Not only is the validation of Lasix good for business, let’s not forget that it does act as a ‘masking agent’ when testing for certain illegal substances.

  5. I find it hard to believe that all the horses participating in this study were all trained, fed, housed and managed so that the only variable in their entire routine was whether they got salix or a placebo when racing. In a true clinical study, all the variation is eliminated and only the “treatment” is variable. The data cannot be statistically analyzed if the variation was not controlled…I have not seen the study yet, so I am curious as to how the authors handled this very important factor.

    What other sport does the athlete go out to compete dehydrated and electrolyte depleted? None. It is insane to do this to these animals.

    I agree with the comment that a truly fit, relatively unstressed, well managed horse is the one that will be less inclined to bleed. There are also nutrients that can be fed to the horse that allows it to help itself stay healthy instead of relying on “drugs” to put a bandaid on a problem. One great example is the use of Omega 3 Fatty acids which most of our equine diets are devoid of. Raising the level of O3 in the diet can help decrease whole body inflammation and raise immune response, which certainly could be helpful in not only the lungs but the entire system of organs.

  6. It’s an absolute disgrace that Stakes races in the US – stallion making races – are run with Lasix. The last thing the breeding industry should be doing is going to sires that bleed. And it’s not just the bleeding issue. What has the use of Lasix masked? No wonder there are so many break downs.

  7. I shouldn’t have to move to Europe to see healthy horses and training methods. It feels like the USA has turned into the ahort-fix. attention deficit disordered, McDonalds factory of racing and everything else. We’ve got bang for the buck but no value to the dollar. Oh well, we can stew most of these horses up later anyhow.

    Here is a great Avalyn Hunter article on the German Thoroughbred http://www.bloodhorse.com/horse-racing/articles/51293/emergent-german-thoroughbred-bloodlines

    Here is the new Monsun-Ouija Board colt: kick butt baby!!!! http://www.knowsley.com/stanley_house/

    Bleeding Heart

  8. Thanks for being skeptical, Gina. Shame that speaking out about truths in American racing has to come from overseas. Americans know that if they air the game’s dirty laundry, you better run for cover.

  9. BTW, it should be noted that if Lasix were to be prohibited in the US, I believe many trainers would raise their game and learn to train using better methodology. As it stands now, why bother?

  10. I would suggest that if horses in the countries other than North America can get by without Lasix or the like something is lacking here.
    Probably the demand on the use of the stop watch and training methods in N.A. in which a horse at a track is tightly penned up 23 hours or so each day and rarely sees the light, except at 4:40 a.m. or on race day.

  11. Have to agree with most of the comments, especially from “takethat”. A horse that is wrong in the wind can be “helped/cured” by a relatively simple surgical procedure, yet most sales horses are returned if they fail a wind test, and breeding associations strongly urge breeders not to breed from horses with a wind unsoundness. Can’t help feeling the same about bleeders – why mask a problem that may be genetic in nature. All that will happen is that bleeders will become more and more prevelant in the gene pool. I think we’d like the opposite to happen.

  12. As an American independant researcher I am very interested in this Lasix issue. I have developed Thomas Herding Technique, (THT), that I might advance the natural herd dynamics into the artificial world by doing wild horse research. I am an Equine Ethological Researcher/Behavior Expert who specializes in Equine Athletic Psychology. I am an advocate for better training, and better treatment of the performance horse through a deeper understanding of the equine psyche, endeavoring to nurture the mind with as much detail and care as the body. I happen to feel that Lasix, aside from the physical, may well be the cause of behavioral issues and inhibit the interpretation of stimulus for the horse in motion, causing dangerous breakdowns. I am doing a research study now called, “Lasix; Performance Inhibiting Drug…?” I feel strongly that not only are we working toward the weakening of our breed by this lazy mans way of getting a horse on the track, but that indeed if this continues, we should here in America have attached to our pedigree information a drug report, stating how long and how often and how many wins etc.,, that Lasix has been an annex. I would be honored to have you visit my company website and have a look through my research and services. You can also keep abreast of THT movements and daily updates on FaceBook fan age Thomas Herding Technique. I thank you and appreciate your time. http://www.thomasherdingtechnique.com

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