Objective - To determine whether evaluation of heart rate (HR) and HR variability (HRV) during prolonged road transportation in horses provides a sensitive index of autonomic stimulation. Animals - Five 2-y ear-old Thoroughbreds. Procedure - ECGs were recorded as horses were transported for 21 hours in a 9-horse van. Heart rate, high-frequency (HF) power, low-frequency (LF) power, and LF-to-HF ratio from Fourier spectral analyses of ECGs were calculated and compared with values recorded during a 24-hour period of stall rest preceding transportation. Results - HR, HF power, and LF power had diurnal rhythms during stall rest but not during road transportation. Heart rate was higher and HF power and LF power lower during road transportation than stall rest, and HR, HF power, LF power, and LF-to-HF ratio all decreased with time during road transportation. Heart rate during stall rest was weakly and inversely associated with LF power, but during road transportation was strongly associated with LF power, HF power, and LF-to-HF ratio. Neither LF power nor HF power was correlated with LF-to-HF ratio during stall rest, but LF power was strongly and HF power weakly correlated with LF-to-HF ratio during road transportation. High-frequency power and LF power were significantly correlated with each other during stall rest and road transportation. Heart rate was significantly influenced by LF power and LF-to-HF ratio during stall rest (R2 = 0.40) and by HF power and LF-to-HF ratio during road transportation (R2 = 0.86). Conclusions and clinical relevance - HR is influenced by different sympathovagal mechanisms during stall rest, compared with during road transportation; HRV may be a sensitive indicator of stress in transported horses.
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