Breathing Problems in Horses

Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD), Summer Pasture Associated Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (SPAOPD), Recurrent Airway Obstruction (RAO) and Heaves are all examples of breathing problems horses can experience. 
Most of the mentioned problems are caused by a hypersensitive reaction to allergens, for example dust or pollen and cause the horse to cough. Other symptoms your horse may show are a nasal discharge, especially after exercise, and laboured breathing. These symptoms often are a result of an obstruction in the airways, for example excess mucous. 
Diagnosis is carried out by a vet using an endoscope, they will often take samples of mucous from the trachea to ensure there is no other cause for this problem.
To prevent these different problems occurring the first thing you must do is to find out what is the trigger of the problem. If it is dust then you should ensure that if you must keep your horse in a stable it is well ventilated with a minimal amount of dust in hay and bedding. This can be achieved by either soaking dusty hay or using haylage and by allowing dust to settle in the bed before you bring your horse in. You should avoid mucking your stable out whilst your horse is in and possibly look to put your horse on dust extracted shavings and rubber matting.
If the breathing problem is caused by pollen then reducing turn out on high pollen count days and riding with a nose net can help to prevent the issue, normally SPAOPD when referring to pollen problems. You may also notice that your horse headshakes on high pollen days.

You can also refer to our allergies article to find out different


ways to help tackle the allergens

causing the breathing problems.

If your horse does not improve when you change their environment then a vet may prescribe a b2-agonist, for example Ventipulmin and in severe cases they may even prescribe an inhaler, which is used with a spacer to ensure your horse inhales the drugs, this can be a steroid inhaler. 

There are alternative treatments and prevention methods for breathing problems in horses, for example you can use nutritional supplements to help to overcome the allergic response. You can also buy sprays to be used around the horse and stable to help open their airways, for example EquiFeast’s Wheeze Eeze or Murphy’s Breathe Easy Exercise Formula.