Why Is My Horse Coughing?
When your horse coughs once or twice, it’s not typically a cause for panic. Like humans, they do cough to clear their airways occasionally of dust, mucus or foreign matter. However, if you notice your horse coughing frequently, during exercise or seasonally, it is time to have your veterinarian evaluate his lung function. Coughing could mean the start of an illness or an inflammatory condition such as heaves.
What Is Heaves?
Heaves is the common term that vets and equestrians use to refer to equine asthma or Recurrent Airway Obstruction (RAO). The coughing is usually triggered by an inhaled allergen like dust, mold, pollen or dust mites. Poor ventilation can cause this condition or further aggravate an existing case. When an allergen enters the airways, it causes them to tighten and produce more mucus. Once the tissues in the respiratory tract become irritated and inflamed, the airways are obstructed making it difficult for your horse to breathe.
Symptoms To Look For If Your Suspect Your Has Heaves
Knowing what to look for can help you describe your horse’s current condition to your vet and help get the diagnosis and treatment underway.
- Flaring nostrils
- Increased respiratory rate
- Exercise intolerance
- Nasal discharge
- Frequent coughing
- Heaves lines*
*These “lines” are often noticeable on your horse’s chest and belly. They are created when the abdominal muscles are working extra hard to breathe.
Note: Horses that are struggling to breathe may be huffing and puffing so hard that it appears they are rocking back and forth. If your horse is experiencing great difficulty getting enough oxygen, call your veterinarian immediately.
Managing Mild Equine Asthma and Other Related Respiratory Problems
If your horse is diagnosed with heaves, asthma, COPD or RAO, EQUUS magazine reviews some of the preventive measures you can take to decrease the respiratory triggers.
- Avoid dusty places and dry footing
- Keep horse turned out as much as possible
- Wet his food and hay to cut down on dust
- Dampen his bedding (or turn him out!)
- Improve the barn ventilation
- Keep his stall clean and free of dust and cobwebs
- Don’t sweep or blow out aisle-ways when your horse is inside
- Add a supplement with fatty acids
Can Respiratory Supplements Help My Heavey Horse?
Equine breathing supplements may help horses diagnosed with respiratory issues such as heaves or RAO. There is no cure for these conditions so any supportive measures offered may help open the airways or lessen future inflammatory responses. Look for supplements that are all-natural, drug-free and safe for all horses to use. When reading supplement labels, you’ll want to choose one that has ingredients such as antioxidants and potassium. Adding vitamin c and Omega 3 and 6 fatty acids may also help horses prone to asthma, allergic reactions and fungal infections of the respiratory tract
Severe Cases of Heaves Require Treatment from Your Veterinarian
If you’ve made all the necessary changes and your horse is still exhibiting signs that he or she is having difficulty breathing, prescription medications may be needed. Horses with respiratory problems may be prescribed oral anti-inflammatory medications, inhaled medications or antibiotics. Your veterinarian will decide which treatment course best suits your horse’s condition.
Help Your Horse Breathe Easier
Any illness or chronic condition that affects your horses’ lung health can cause respiratory distress and compromise his quality of life. Taking the necessary steps to prevent or lessen future inflammatory flare-ups will only benefit the overall well-being of your equine athlete or companion. Natural remedies and any necessary medications may help provide cough relief and make breathing easier. Knowing the signs of heaves, COPD or RAO will allow you to begin treatment sooner ensuring your horse isn’t suffering unnecessarily.