Hang on, horses get asthma??

Equine asthma is now used to collectively describe airway disorders which may have been known previously as:

  • IAD- Inflammatory Airway Disease
  • COPD- Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease
  • Heaves
  • RAO- Recurrent airway obstruction

We often see this condition spike at two different times of year:

  • Spring/Summer- pollen and spores can cause irritation to your horses airway and with higher temperatures and humidity this can cause worsening symptoms
  • Winter- Horses are being brought into stables and are exposed to straw/dusty hay leading to clinical signs

What are the clinical signs??

  • Nasal discharge- this can be serous or thick and cream/yellow coloured
  • Cough- generally present but not always! Can also commonly be worse during exercise
  • Increased respiratory rate
  • Increased respiratory effort- flanks and abdomen contracting to expel air
  • This can lead to development of a heave line as breathing out should be a passive process (not requiring muscle contraction)

How do we diagnose equine asthma?

  • A thorough clinical exam including careful auscultation (listening using a stethescope) of your horses lungs and heart, temperature may also be taken
  • History is very important- have there been any management changes? Any changes to the hay? Any exposure to dust or have they been harvesting in the field next door?
  • Endoscopy may be recommended- this is when we place a camera down into the airway and we can visualise for any signs of infection. We are also then able to take samples (tracheal wash and broncho-alveolar lavage) from the airway to confirm if your horse is suffering from asthma and whether any secondary infections are present.

How do you treat equine asthma?

  • Treatment varies between cases according to the severity of the episode, how chronic the condition is (e.g. have they had it before and how recently) and if secondary infection is confirmed or suspected
  • Management is hugely important- ventilation, dust free bedding, soaking hay for a short time (1 hour) can all help reduce dust spores in the environment.
  • Medications such as bronchodilators (ventipulmin), steroids (dexamethasone/prednisolone) and mucolytic agents (sputolosin) may be prescribed
  • In repeat cases and long term management cases inhaled medications can also be prescribed

What should I do if I think my horse might be having an asthma attack/flare up?

  • Please call us urgently- this is an emergency and can be very distressing for your horse. We provide a 24hr/365 days a year service and will endeavour to get to you as quickly as is possible.

I hope this has given everyone a little bit of information about equine asthma! Wishing you all a great weekend! Alex x