Dynamic pharyngeal collapse in racehorses

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Reason for performing study:

Dynamic pharyngeal collapse (PC) is a condition seen in racehorses that can be career-ending.


To characterise and grade PC and describe the effects of PC on athletic performance.


Medical records were reviewed for 828 horses, of which 49 (6%) records were identified as horses with a primary diagnosis of PC. Tapes of video-endoscopy of the pharynx during exercise were reviewed. Each video recording was assigned a grade(0-4)reflecting the degree of PC and a classification for severity of upper airway obstruction. Earnings per race prior to diagnosis of PC were compared to earnings per race after diagnosis of PC for all horses, as well as performance index (PI). Available exercising arterial blood gases were reviewed for horses with PC.


There were 35 (80%) Thoroughbreds (TB), and 9 (20%) Standardbreds (STD). 32 (73%) had a history of making an upper respiratory noise. 4 (9%)grade 1PC, 8 (18%)grade 2PC, 26 (59%)grade 3PC, and 6 (14%)grade 4PC. Seven (16%) horses were classified as mild PC, 18 (41%) as low-moderate PC, 14 (32%) as high-moderate PC, and 5 (11%) as severe PC. Of 30 horses 11 had abnormally decreased PaO2 and 8 horses had abnormally elevated PaCO2. A significant decrease was found in earnings per race prediagnosis when compared to post diagnosis earnings per race in horses ≥4 years of age (P = 0.003). A significant decrease was also observed for earnings per race prediagnosis when compared to post diagnosis earnings per race in horses withgrade 3PC (P = 0.03) No significant differences were observed in PI before or after diagnosis of PC.


There was a trend for PC to be observed in more TB than STD, and more males than females compared to the general hospital population. Horses with PC significant had decreases in arterial oxygenation. Racing records after a diagnosis of PC in all horses ≥4 years of age suggesting that older horses have a guarded prognosis for continued success.

Potential relevance:

This study provides a classification system for dynamic pharyngeal collapse and suggests that older racehorses (≥4 years of age) diagnosed with PC and all horses withgrade 3PC have a poor prognosis for return to previous level of performance.

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