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Equine Asthma

Cases vary from mild to severe

Equine Asthma is a relatively new term which covers a variety of inflammatory respiratory issues in horses. Cases vary from mild to severe and can be seen all year round. Unfortunately, there are a group of horses suffering from asthma, who’s symptoms will be exacerbated by the sudden increase in mould spores and elevated pollen count during the Summer months. We term this seasonal response ‘summer pasture-associated equine asthma’. The allergic response to pollen and other seasonal particles results in narrowing of the airways, increased secretion of mucus and therefore reduced airflow. Horses may present with symptoms which vary from exercise intolerance and breathlessness to severe coughing, wheezing and even weight loss.

In some cases, horses may suffer from episodes of severe respiratory distress requiring urgent veterinary attention. Should this occur, after a clinical examination, your veterinary surgeon will likely be able to administer medication to ease your horse’s breathing. They will also advise on further investigation of the issue and future treatment. Treatment may include oral medications to help reduce inflammation, dilate the airways, and remove mucus. As with human asthma, inhaled medications are also available for horses, and, whilst it may require some training to facilitate administration, they allow targeted, more effective treatment of the airways and lungs.

Medication is important, but successful treatment of summer pasture-associated equine asthma is also based around management.

Good management can significantly improve your horse’s outcome. Minimising exposure to allergens is key and includes:

  • Stable or barn rest. Unlike horses with dust allergies where we would advise maximising turnout, in these summer cases it is essential to keep your horse off pasture when the pollen count is high. Some horses may benefit from turnout overnight rather than during the day to reduce exposure
  • Dust free bedding and feed. Whilst stabled it is still important to ensure the environment contains as few particles as possible. Many owners even hoover their stables to help reduce dust in the environment! Avoid straw and use a dust free bedding. Soaking or steaming hay can decrease respirable dust by up to 99%, and feeding from the floor rather than a haynet prevents your horse from shoving their nose into their hay and inhaling particles
  • Ensure good ventilation in the stable. Reduced ventilation allows particles to persist in the space and increases your horse’s exposure to allergens

If you are concerned that your horse is suffering from breathing difficulties, or has developed a cough as we progress into summer, or you’d like to discuss current management with one of our team, please don’t hesitate to contact us on 01323 815120.