Stress Echocardiography in Warmblood Horses: Comparison of Dobutamine/Atropine with Treadmill Exercise as Cardiac Stressors

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The purpose of this study was to determine whether the combination of dobutamine and atropine causes cardiac stress equivalent to treadmill exercise. Therefore, electrocardiography and echocardiography were performed on 10 warmblood horses before, during, and after different cardiac stress tests. Stressors consisted of a standardized treadmill exercise and combined administration of dobutamine (7.5 μg/kg/min) and atropine (5 μg/kg). Maxima heart rates were achieved during the treadmill exercise (175 ± 10 bpm). After exercise, a rapid decrease in heart rate was observed. Subsequently, a stress echocardiography for which a heart rate >100 bpm was required could only be performed within 1 minute after exercise. The mean heart rate during echocardiography was 136 ± 8 bpm after exercise. The combination of dobutamine and atropine also resulted in a significant increase in heart rate, up to 141 ± 20 bpm. Maxima heart rate was significantly higher during the treadmill exercise, but the decrease in heart rate was significantly slower after dobutamine and atropine administration. Over a period of 7.9 minutes, the mean heart rate was 123 ± 8 bpm during dobutamine and atropine administration. Consequently, the combination of both drugs offered sufficient time for detailed examinations. Overall, echocardiographic examination identified a decrease in left ventricular (LV) dimensions, an increase in LV wall thickness, and a decrease in stroke volume after the treadmill exercise and during pharmacologic stress testing compared with baseline. Changes in echocardiographic variables generally were more pronounced during dobutamine and atropine administration. Similar to stress echocardiography in humans, in horses the combination of dobutamine and atropine is useful to produce an increase in heart rate comparable with what is achieved with exercise but without the need of increasing dobutamine dosage.

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