Atrial fibrillation (AF) is the most common performance-limiting arrhythmia of racehorses. A genetic contribution has been suggested in Standardbred racehorses but has not been investigated in Thoroughbreds. The objective of this study was to determine the heritability of AF in Thoroughbred racehorses.
Horses racing between 2007 and 2019 in Hong Kong and Australia that had AF detected postrace via auscultation (n = 463 cases) were compared with five randomly selected racing contemporaries (n = 2,315 controls). The ASReml-R programme was used to fit an animal model to the AF data to estimate heritability using the entire data set and a subset of horses (n = 106 cases) that had electrocardiographic confirmation of AF. Variance components were estimated assuming AF was normally distributed and on the logit-transformed scale. The risk of producing AF-affected offspring was calculated using Fisher's exact test for stallions that sired ≥10 individuals in the case–control population.
Heritability on the underlying scale was 0.064 ± 0.04 (logit animal) and 0.071 ± 0.04 (normal animal) for the entire population and 0.065 ± 0.097 (logit animal) and 0.058 ± 0.11 (normal animal) for electrocardiographic-confirmed AF cases. Of 71 stallions that sired ≥10 individuals, three were more likely to produce affected offspring (odds ratio: 4.05–7.57; p < 0.01). Age (p = 0.991), sex (p = 0.830), and year of birth (p = 0.547) did not contribute to expression.
Although some stallions were overrepresented amongst affected horses, the heritability of AF in this population of Thoroughbreds was low. Environmental and individual factors contributing to AF development require further investigation.