How Horses Work: The Blood

The average 500kg horse has roughly 40 litres of blood. Plasma, the liquid portion, makes up roughly 55% and cells comprise the remainder. The cells are mostly red blood cells, with a smaller number of white blood cells and platelets. But what do they all do?

The main function of red blood cells, which are also called erythrocytes, is the transport of oxygen from the alveoli in the lungs to the organs, muscles and other tissues where it is needed. Red cells are tiny flattened discs with an indent in the centre and there are several million red blood cells in a single drop of blood.

White blood cells are far less numerous, making up less than 1% of the blood volume. Also known as leukocytes, there are five different types which all have crucial roles in the complex process which protects the body from disease and infection. Neutrophils kill bacteria and fungi and then digest them with the aid of monocytes. Lymphocytes create antibodies against bacteria and viruses while basophils form the alarm system which sounds when infectious agents are detected in the blood. Eosinophils are involved in allergic responses as well as dealing with parasites and attacking cancer cells.

The last group of cells are platelets. These cells interact with clotting factors to form a clot and prevent life-threatening bleeding when blood vessels are damaged.

Plasma is the liquid portion of the blood in which all the cells are carried. It is around 90% water but also transports carbon dioxide (back to the lungs to be breathed out) and glucose as well as proteins, fats, hormones and vitamins.

Routine blood tests look at the numbers and ratios of the different groups of blood cells (haematology) as well as electrolytes, proteins and a variety of enzymes produced by the organs (biochemistry). Our in house laboratory runs routine haematology and biochemistry with same day results available for samples received during business hours.



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