Horse Winter Respiratory Health


Date: December 27th, 2012

During the winter months is important that horse owners closely monitor their horse's respiratory health. Read on for more information.

Running Horse in Snow
Winter Respiratory Problems in Horses

Horses that are confined to barns for extended periods of time during cold weather are at higher risk of developing respiratory problems. The most common respiratory ailment is heaves, which is characterized by a chronic cough, low stamina, heavy breathing, weight loss and sometimes a watery discharge from the nostrils.

The breathing difficulty stems from the narrowing of air passages, similar to that of human asthma. The main symptom is a forced effort to exhale. Air is drawn into the body easily but pushing the air out of the respiratory system requires two movements of the abdominal wall. The horse has to tense his abdominal muscles to force the air out and give an exaggerated lift of the flank.

Where does it come from?


Heaves begin as an allergic reaction to something in the horse's exterior environment. Usually this involves the inhalation of mold or dust from poor quality forage or poorly ventilated barns. It can also arise from an unidentified allergen that existed in the pasture.

Heaves can vary from mild occurrences that are triggered by changing seasons or extreme flare-ups that result in weight loss and a "heave line". Heave lines are excessive muscular development along the barrel of the horse's chest that results from the extra exertion required by these muscles to exhale.


What can be done?


Once a horse has contracted heaves, the only solution is a dust-free environment. An open-sided shed or lean-to that is free of bedding is required to begin the healing process. Feed a diet that includes dust-free pellets or water-soaked hay to keep the horse from reverting back to his sickened state. Avoid returning the horse to a dusty environment even for just a short while. The exposure can set back the healing process several days and lead to more inflammation of air passages and difficulty breathing.

It may take weeks for a horse to recover from inflammation in air passages, even if the horse is turned out to a non-dusty environment.

Most horses will still require medication even if all of these steps are taken. Improving the air quality will not decrease the airway constriction and inflammation quickly, but medications can help. Anti-inflammatories and bronchodilators are commonly used medications to reduce swelling in air passages. Contact your veterinarian before giving your horse any new medication.


Cough Medications


Farnam Cough Free Powder is a 100% natural formula of herbs and minerals that can help with colds, heaves and allergies. Developed by an Amish horse expert, this formula works fast and doesn't contain any filler.

Finish Line Air Power is an all-natural aid in the relief of minor coughs due to irritation. Air Power contains menthol, which has been proven to have a cooling effect that helps relieve irritation and acts as a cough reliever. It also contains Eucalyptus, which is a known expectorant (loosens phlegm in the respiratory tract, making it easier to expel the phlegm during a cough).

Depending on the severity of your horse's condition, it may be worthwhile to have a veterinarian examine your horse's condition. Sometimes the use of a strong anti-inflammatory agent such as steroids is necessary.



Has your horse suffered from a respiratory illness in winter? Leave a comment and let us know how you treated your horse.

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