Equine Asthma – How can I manage it?

Equine vet Jade Harding discusses how to help effectively manage equine asthma

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Equine Asthma is a common respiratory disease in horses. It’s where an allergic reaction results in narrowing and thickening of the airways, and excessive production of mucus. An allergen is something that provokes an allergic reaction. The allergens involved in Equine Asthma are often difficult to identify. They can include dust, fungal spores, plant pollens and ammonia from stale urine. Whether your horse has recently been diagnosed with Equine Asthma, or has had the condition for many years, there are key management factors which can play a role in reducing exposure to allergens and helping to alleviate asthma symptoms.

Feed and fibre

Soaking hay for 30-60 minutes prior to feeding dampens the dust and spores. This means that they are then swallowed rather than inhaled. Good quality haylage can also be fed as an alternative to soaked hay. Hard feeds should be dampened down with water. Feeding fibre from the floor, rather than from nets, can also help reduce the amount of inhaled dust and spores. It’s important to be consistent and to ensure that all of the fibre your horse is exposed to is suitable. There is little benefit to feeding soaked hay in the stable if your horse has access to dry hay bales in the field for example.

Stable management

Using a dust-free bedding is very important for managing Equine Asthma. Also keeping the stable clean and removing soiled bedding regularly reduces the concentration of ammonia from stale urine. “Deep litter” management systems are associated with an increased concentration of ammonia in the stable. This can irritate your horse’s airways and exacerbate symptoms.

Get the broom out!

Brushing away those cobwebs, and also keeping your stable free of equipment and rugs, can help reduce the amount of accumulated dust. It’s a good idea to muck out whilst your horse is out of the stable. Ideally you should allow time for the dust to settle before returning him to the stable. Similarly, grooming your horse outdoors allows dust to be blown away rather than lingering in the airspace.

A room with a view

Most stables, even modern ones, are built with practicality and comfort in mind rather than good ventilation, particularly where multiple horses share the same airspace. Is it possible to create a window in your horse’s stable, or remove the panels from an existing one, to improve the air flow? Ideally the ventilation inside a stable should be such that the entire airspace is replaced four to eight times per hour.

… do they need to be stabled at all?

If possible, consider keeping your horse outside in the fresh air 24/7. However, in some instances, Equine Asthma can be triggered by plant pollens. If this is the case for your horse, stabling, or moving fields or premises, may be necessary whilst the pollen count is high.

It’s not working!

Equine asthma has different categories of severity and some horses are much more severely affected than others. Often the clinical signs can be completely controlled by implementing the key management practices described here, but sometimes this may not be enough. If your horse shows clinical signs of asthma despite good management practices, your vet will be able to talk you through the different options for medication to allow them to lead a normal, happy life.

If you want to know more about Equine Asthma then you can read about it here.

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