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Compr Physiol. 2011 Jan;1(1):1-37. doi: 10.1002/cphy.c091001.

Highly athletic terrestrial mammals: horses and dogs.

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Departments of Kinesiology, Anatomy and Physiology, Kansas State University, Manhattan, KS, USA.


Evolutionary forces drive beneficial adaptations in response to a complex array of environmental conditions. In contrast, over several millennia, humans have been so enamored by the running/athletic prowess of horses and dogs that they have sculpted their anatomy and physiology based solely upon running speed. Thus, through hundreds of generations, those structural and functional traits crucial for running fast have been optimized. Central among these traits is the capacity to uptake, transport and utilize oxygen at spectacular rates. Moreover, the coupling of the key systems--pulmonary-cardiovascular-muscular is so exquisitely tuned in horses and dogs that oxygen uptake response kinetics evidence little inertia as the animal transitions from rest to exercise. These fast oxygen uptake kinetics minimize Intramyocyte perturbations that can limit exercise tolerance. For the physiologist, study of horses and dogs allows investigation not only of a broader range of oxidative function than available in humans, but explores the very limits of mammalian biological adaptability. Specifically, the unparalleled equine cardiovascular and muscular systems can transport and utilize more oxygen than the lungs can supply. Two consequences of this situation, particularly in the horse, are profound exercise-induced arterial hypoxemia and hypercapnia as well as structural failure of the delicate blood-gas barrier causing pulmonary hemorrhage and, in the extreme, overt epistaxis. This chapter compares and contrasts horses and dogs with humans with respect to the structural and functional features that enable these extraordinary mammals to support their prodigious oxidative and therefore athletic capabilities.

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