Respiratory problems in horses are something that horse owners need to watch out for. Any infection in horses can sideline them for a week or even a month. Acute infections may even leave a more permanent mark on your horse’s immune system.
For performance and athletics, horses require a healthy respiratory system. When your horse is resting, it breathes twelve times a minute on average. However, while performing, this increases to more than 150 times a minute. Even the volume of air inhaled in each breath increases from around 5 to 15 liters. While trotting or cantering, your horse inhales and exhales much more than at rest.
Even minor respiratory problems can cause a lot of adverse effects in horses. Hence, horse owners need to be very careful about the prevention and treatment of respiratory disease. In this article, we’ll take a look at some of the best ways to prevent respiratory problems in horses.
Common causes of respiratory problems in horses
Before going into prevention, it is important to understand some of the common causes of respiratory problems. Some of these can affect the airway or nasal passage while some can affect their lungs. The most common causes of respiratory problems in horses are:
- Bacteria and viruses
- Harmful gases
Bacteria can cause a respiratory infection in horses known as Strangles. It can even affect the lungs causing pneumonia. The symptoms can include fever, cough, runny nose, lethargy, and a loss of appetite.
Myxoviruses are likely to cause influenza in horses. These are usually characterized by very high fevers. There are a host of other viruses that can cause respiratory problems, especially in foals.
Allergens can cause respiratory diseases like Heaves or COPD (Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease). These are usually caused by allergens found in a horse’s environment which obstruct airflow. The symptoms can include flared nostrils, cough, and forced breathing from the abdomen.
Poor air can cause inflammation of the airway. The airway inflammation can increase due to various other factors such as transportation stress or dust.
Broadly, you can identify respiratory problems in horses based on one or more of these symptoms:
- Breathing pattern changes
- Nasal discharge
- Eye inflammation
- Poor appetite
Ways to prevent respiratory problems
Here are some of the preventive measures that horse owners can take to reduce the risk of respiratory problems.
When a horse eats, it is recommended that they lower their heads to avoid any particles from obstructing the air passage. Forage usually has some amount of dust particles in it. Soaking hay can reduce the dust particles to some extent.
However, soaking can cause some of the essential nutrients to be dissolved and lost in the water. It is also a tedious task. The tubs where hay is soaked need to be cleaned regularly, so steaming is a better alternative to soaking. Good steamers can decrease the loss of nutrients and are more hygienic. Steamers are a big investment but can help if your hay is particularly dusty or your horse has a sensitive respiratory system.
A good immune system is necessary to minimize risks of any respiratory problems. Vitamin and mineral supplements can be used boost your horse’s immune system as well.
Horse owners need to take special care to ensure that the bedding is clean, fresh, and free from dust. Good quality straw encourages horses to lie down more than shavings. High-quality straw will retain less germs, bacteria, and fungi than shavings.
The flooring is an important consideration for horse owners because a clean floor means less diseases. So it is imperative that horse owners select a material that’s easy to clean and maintain. Sealed rubber floors are an excellent choice. They can be cleaned easily with a hose and also require less bedding. This reduces the overall amount of dust in the stables too.
Ammonia can cause severe irritation in the airways of horses. Also, bacteria and other germs tend to accumulate on stable floors with time. So an important consideration for selecting your floor material must be something that can be disinfected easily. Rubber is a good option for this too.
It is essential that your stables are well ventilated. The lack of proper ventilation can make horses more susceptible to respiratory diseases. Always keep the windows and stable top-doors open, even in cold weather. Blanketing is a better alternative than closing off vents and doors.
During the process of mucking out the stable, keep all doors and windows open. Make sure that your horses are not in the stable at this time. They should only be allowed in at least after half an hour after the process is over.
Cleaning and disinfecting the stables once a week is a good way to prevent respiratory problems. However, make sure that the disinfectants you use are harmless. Some disinfectants can harm the airways of horses, so it’s best to remove your horses from the stable when you’re disinfecting.
Taking the horse out of the stable regularly for grazing is another good way to prevent respiratory problems. Stables generally expose them a lot of dust, while grazing in the open can expose them to cleaner air.
Make sure that your horses have been administered the recommended vaccinations. While these may not always prevent an infection, they can certainly reduce the severity of infections.
Travel can make your horses more prone to catching a respiratory disease or worsen an existing infection. It is recommended that you check their temperature before you travel. If they have a fever, do not venture out.
Also, to minimize the risks of respiratory problems, make sure that your horses have access to good ventilation. It is also necessary that they have bedding with low amount of dust and clean (or soaked/steamed feed).
A young horse is more prone to respiratory diseases due to a weaker immune system. So make sure that they are not exposed to horses that travel a lot. The same applies to an older horse as well, because they are more susceptible to illnesses.
By far, a strong immune system is the best way to prevent respiratory problems in horses. However, if any of your horses are infected with a respiratory disease, immediately isolate them. This will help minimize the spread to other animals through contact.
As the treatment begins for your sick horse, you must also monitor the health of the others. Check their temperatures twice a day as fever is one of the first symptoms of an infection.
A clean environment goes a long way to prevent respiratory disease in horses. Even when you take them elsewhere, make sure to use your own feed and water buckets to prevent illnesses.
Can you think of any other useful tips to prevent respiratory problems in horses? Let us know in the comments below.