Equine atrial natriuretic peptide (ANP) plasma concentrations are correlated with left atrial size. However, species-specific assays are lacking and the results from human assays are poorly reproducible. A new methodology called processing independent analysis (PIA) that measures the total proANP product in plasma has proven to be successful in human medicine, but has never been used in horses. The aims were to establish an equine proANP reference interval by measurement of the total proANP product using PIA and to examine the proANP concentrations in horses with atrial dilatation. Sample stability was studied by comparison of storage at -80 degrees C and -20 degrees C. Plasma samples were obtained from 23 healthy horses, 12 horses with moderate or severe valvular regurgitation without atrial dilatation and 42 horses with valvular regurgitation and atrial dilatation. The proANP concentration was significantly (P<0.001) higher in horses with atrial dilatation (761.4 (442.1-1859.1) pmol/l) than in healthy horses (491.6 (429.5-765.9) pmol/l; P<0.001) or horses with cardiac disease but without atrial dilatation (544.4 (457.0-677.6) pmol/l). A cut-off value (573.8 pmol/l) for detection of atrial dilatation was calculated. Sample storage at -80 degrees C did not differ from sample storage at -20 degrees C. The measurement of total proANP in plasma detects atrial dilatation in horses and may be useful for clinical evaluation in equine medicine.