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What is Chelation Therapy?

Chelation therapy is the administration of chelating materials, which are organic compounds, that bind to ionic materials in the body allowing them to be excreted. Chelating materials can be administered intravenously or orally in your horse when there is a buildup of heavy metals in the body that require binding to be safely excreted from the body. Chelation therapy is accepted as a suitable therapy for the removal of lead and high calcium levels in your horse's system. Many practitioners also promote chelation therapy as being effective for the removal of other toxins from the body, resulting in benefits to the cardiovascular system and other vital organs such as the kidney and liver. 

Horses are not particularly prone to heavy metal poisoning, however if contamination from lead or other heavy metals occurs in their environment, or contaminates their feed, ingestion over a long period of time can result in a buildup of the metals resulting in toxicity symptoms. Testing of blood and tissue samples such as hair can reveal toxic metal or mineral build up that would benefit from administering of chelating materials that bind to ions in the metal or mineral and allow it to be passed from your horse's body in the urine or feces. A veterinarian can test for metal or mineral imbalance in your horse and prescribe oral chelation therapy or administer chelation intravenously.

Chelation Therapy Procedure in Horses

The two most commonly used chelating agents for lead toxicity are calcium disodium edetate and succimer. 

Your veterinarian will take blood, urine, tissue or hair samples and have them tested to determine buildup of lead, calcium or other metals or minerals to toxic levels in your horse. If toxic metals such as lead are discovered, immediate steps to locate and remove the source of contamination should be taken. Your veterinarian can also administer or prescribe chelating agents for lead toxicity such as:

  • Calcium disodium edetate, administered by a veterinarian by IV twice daily at a rate of 75 mg/kg/day for three to five days followed by a two to three-day rest period. If subsequent testing reveals toxic substances are still present or if symptoms of toxicity persist, additional chelation therapy is administered.
  • Succimer, prescribed by a veterinarian and administered daily for 10 days at 10mg/kg followed by a rest period. Treatment is repeated as necessary until toxic materials are excreted from your horse's system. 

The chelating agents bind with ions in your horse's digestive system and then allows them to be excreted in urine or feces without being absorbed into your horse's bloodstream.

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Efficacy of Chelation Therapy in Horses

The effectiveness of chelation therapy has been a subject of controversy over the years, however its effectiveness for treating lead poisoning has been well established in both human and veterinary medicine. It is also accepted as a treatment for excess calcium. Treatment for other toxins has not been as well established, but many practitioners feel that it is beneficial for the treatment of other metal and mineral imbalances.

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Chelation Therapy Recovery in Horses

It is important to ensure that your horse is adequately hydrated and to monitor urination and fecal excretion to ensure that your horse's kidneys and GI tract are passing substances adequately to allow elimination of toxic materials.

If laryngeal dysfunction occurred, your horse should be checked for aspiration pneumonia.

Some side effects are possible with the administration of chelating materials and if they require follow-up by a veterinarian care should be acquired. Possible side effects include:

  • Fever
  • Diarrhea
  • Cardiac arrhythmia
  • Allergic reaction including respiratory or dermal reactions
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Cost of Chelation Therapy in Horses

Depending on the number of treatments required, method of administration, and your location, the cost of chelation therapy can range from $500 to $2,000 or more.

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Horse Chelation Therapy Considerations

Chelating therapy for the treatment of toxicity other than lead and calcium in controversial and should be combined with other traditional therapies when appropriate to ensure best result is achieved.

Side effects are possible and can be serious, the cost can be substantial, and effectiveness for many conditions has not been established. Tests to establish toxicity presence should be conducted to ensure appropriate chelation therapy is being used.

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Chelation Therapy Prevention in Horses

Ensuring that supplemental feeds are administered in the appropriate amounts so as not to cause an imbalance of metals and minerals in your horse is important. Contamination in your horse's environment, from inappropriately disposed waste or industrial activities in your area, should be determined and addressed by removal of contaminating substances or removal of your horse from that environment.

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Chelation Therapy Questions and Advice from Veterinary Professionals

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