When a horse develops chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, or COPD, it is often referred to as recurrent airway obstruction or heaves. This is actually a common condition that can impact horses, donkeys, and ponies of all different ages and breeds. However, COPD in horses is something that will mainly take place in the wintertime.
This is an allergic disease of the horse’s lungs, which will lead to the airways becoming constricted and making it much more difficult for the horse to breathe. Because of this, the horse could end up breathing deeper and faster than normal or even cough. While some cases are mild, there can be others that will become severe and even lead to more permanent damage to the lungs.
There are a number of substances that horses can be allergic to, with the more common substances being fungal spores that can develop on their straw or hay. This is why you will normally see that the COPD will develop in the winter when they are spending a great deal of time in their barns, stables or arenas.
A COPD diagnosis for a horse can usually be done upon examination and any signs that are reported by the horse’s owner. It is always advised that a horse that is suspected of having COPD is scoped so that a lungwash can be done to take a small amount of fluid for further testing. This is something that could also be required if there seems to be some sort of secondary infection in the lungs of the horse.
Proper COPD Management
One crucial element of proper treatment of COPD in a horse is to make sure that dust levels are kept to a minimum. If possible, the horse should be turned out year-round with a field shelter. If not, the dust that is in the stable could be reduced by offering vacuum packed hay, quality haylage, or high quality hay that has been soaked for about half an hour. Hard feed may also be easily dampened by adding just a little bit of water before feeding time.
Adding in rubber matting to the barn may also be a great alternative for dust-free bedding. BedMax material and shredded paper are also nearly free of dust. However, you need to keep in mind that shavings will also be a bit less dusty than using straw. If you do end up using straw, you need to go with a higher quality so that you have a chance at much less dust being present. As always, a barn or stable that is clean and free of cobwebs with plenty of good ventilation will be ideal.
While working with your veterinarian, the or she may prescribe a bronchodilator to help widen the airways for your horse and to help with breathing. If it seems as though the condition has gotten too severe or the horse is not responsive to the treatments, it may be necessary for there to be a course of corticosteroid injections or tablets to help open up the airways. Research has shown that the inhalers that are used today are good for long-term use and are safe for horses.
Horse owners should also know that when it comes to COPD in horses, there is also a summer form that can be a bit more difficult to treat. If the horse is allergic to pollens in the warmer months, they are hard to avoid and may need more aggressive treatment. No matter what season it is or the age of your horse, you need to be sure that you are able to stay on top of a clean living environment and diligent with all treatments that are suggested or prescribed by the veterinarian.