Equine Asthma

by Dr. George Worden BVMedSci(Hons) BVM BVS PGCert(VetMed) MRCVS | Equine Vets
14 October 2019 | eVet Advice

Equine asthma is a common cause of coughing and poor performance. It has previously been called Infectious Airway Disease (IAD), Recurrent Airway Obstruction (RAO), Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD), and heaves.

Cause: It is generally an overreaction of the immune system, either for an unknown cause or to a specific allergen within the environment such as pollen or dust. It can affect horses at any age, and may be exhibited seasonally or year-round.

Diagnosis: This will involve taking a thorough history including management aspects such as bedding and housing, and a full clinical examination. It is then often necessary to perform an endoscopic examination of the airways, and take a sample of the mucous that naturally coats them. This will be examined microscopically, and in horses suffering from asthma we will be able to identify a different mix of white blood cells when compared to a normal horse.


Treatment; This has two main aspects; environmental and medical.

Environmental treatment aims to reduce the amount of allergens or irritants that your horse comes into contact with, to reduce triggering an episode. Having as much ventilation within the stable as possible is key, alongside using a dust-free or low-dust bedding. If the asthma is caused by pollens, it can be a good idea to turn your horse out at night when pollen levels are naturally lower, and have them in the stable during the day. Rinsing or steaming hay just before giving it to your horse will remove any dust within it without altering the nutritional content. There are also a number of supplements available which can help support your horse’s normal respiratory function, including Equistro Secreta Pro-Max, Science Supplements RespirAid, and Cavalor Bronchix Pure.

For horses that are actively in an asthmatic episode, medical intervention may also be required alongside environmental control. This will often involve some form of corticosteroids as well as bronchodilators. These will help reduce inflammation within the airways, and allow the airways to relax so that it is easier for your horse to breathe normally again. Two of the main methods for giving these drugs are either by human inhalers or nebulising (turning the drug into a fine mist to be breathed in). These methods are good at ensuring the drugs are delivered directly to where they need to be; the airways. To use a human inhaler, you will need to have an AeroHippus Respiratory System to deliver the spray to one of your horse’s nostrils. Occasionally, horses will not enjoy the sensation of having a nostril covered or the noise of the inhaler. In these situations, using a Flexineb system often works well, and many horses actually enjoy wearing the Flexineb masks. This system gently vaporises the drug and allows the horse to breathe it into both nostrils over a matter of minutes. The benefit of the Flexineb system is the ability to include supplementary treatments alongside the drugs with saline, or supplements like Audevard Balsamic Air. These encourage the airway to open and help move excess mucous.

For any more information on Equine Asthma or the products mentioned in this post, please don’t hesitate to contact us.

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