Objective-To determine whether withholding of food affects autonomic nervous system balance by analysis of heart rate (HR), HR variability (HRV), and frequency of second-degree atrioventricular block in horses. Animals-5 healthy Thoroughbreds. Procedures-For two 24-hour periods in a crossover study, food was withheld from horses or horses were maintained on their regular feeding schedule (control conditions) in their stalls and Holter monitor ECG recordings were obtained. The ECGs were analyzed by use of fast-Fourier transformation, and power spectrum densities were calculated for low-frequency (0.01 to 0.07 Hz) and high-frequency (0.07 to 0.6 Hz) variations in HR. Serum cortisol and plasma ACTH, norepinephrine, and glucose concentrations were measured at predetermined time points. Results-Withholding of food resulted in significantly lower HR and more frequent second- degree atrioventricular block (the frequency of which was inversely related to the HR), compared with findings for control conditions. Circadian rhythms were similar during foodwithholding and control conditions; peak HR was detected from 7:00 pm to 8:00 pm, and the lowest HR was detected in the early morning. During food-withholding conditions, the lowfrequency and high-frequency components of HRV were significantly higher, and the lowfrequency- to-high-frequency ratio was lower than during control conditions. Serum cortisol concentration was higher and plasma glucose concentration was lower at 6:00 pm in horses when food was withheld, compared with findings during control conditions. Conclusions and Clinical Relevance-Indices of HRV seemed to be sensitive to changes in autonomic nervous activity and may be useful as clinical indices of the neuroendocrine response to stressors in horses.
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