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J Appl Physiol (1985). 1989 Nov;67(5):1958-66.

Exercise-induced hypercapnia in the horse.

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  • 1Department of Veterinary Clinical Medicine and Surgery, College of Veterinary Medicine, Washington State University, Pullman 99164-6610.


The effects of exercise intensity and duration on blood gases in thoroughbred horses were studied to characterize the apparent exercise-induced failure in pulmonary gas exchange that occurs in these animals. In response to 2 min of exercise, arterial CO2 tension (PaCO2) decreased in mild and moderate exercise, returned to normocapnic levels in moderate to heavy exercise, and rose 5-10 Torr above resting values during very heavy exercise when CO2 production (VCO2) exceeded 20 times the resting value, and mixed venous CO2 tension approximated 140 Torr. Exercise-induced hypoxemia occurred at the onset of heavy exercise and was associated with the absence of a hyperventilatory response and an alveolar-arterial PO2 difference that increased four to six times above rest with very heavy exercise. PaCO2 was related to VCO2 but not fb, as changes in breathing frequency (fb) of 8-20 breaths/min at comparable VCO2 did not affect PaCO2. Prolonging very heavy exercise from 2 to 4 min caused a severe metabolic acidosis (arterial pH less than 7.15) and hypoxemia was maintained; however, CO2 was no longer retained, as PaCO2 gradually fell to below resting levels, due to an increased tidal volume at constant fb. We conclude that a truly compensatory hyperventilation to very heavy exercise in the horse is not achieved because of the excessive volumes and flow rates required by their extraordinarily high VCO2 and VO2. On the other hand, the frank CO2 retention during short-term high-intensity exercise occurs even though the horse is not apparently mechanically obligated to tolerate it.

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