Understanding your horse’s lungs
The lungs main function is to bring oxygen into the body from the outside environment (and remove carbon dioxide), it must also act as a filter in order to prevent harmful particles from the environment entering the body. The lungs therefore have their own highly developed immune system with specialized white blood cells to deal with things such as bacteria, fungi and viruses which could be inhaled. To help with this, the delicate tissues of the lungs are lined with a fine mucous to help trap harmful particles so they can be removed, before entering the blood stream.
What causes irritation to your horse’s lungs?
Coughing caused by fungal spores and dust in bedding and forage is extremely common. These irritants cause an inflammatory reaction, where the body produces more mucous, which can become thick. This mucous makes it difficult to breathe, and you can see the horse’s abdominal muscles working like bellows, known commonly as ‘heaves’. A horse with a chronic inflammatory lung condition will lack energy (due to not being able to inhale enough oxygen for performance) and will cough regularly in an attempt to clear the mucous. There is some debate whether this type of lung sensitivity is an allergy, or in fact a genetic predisposition. Previously known as COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease) which likened the condition to asthma in humans, it has been decided that Recurrent Airway Obstruction is a better definition. Whatever the cause, cleaning the horse’s environment is a must in order to get on top of the condition. Improving ventilation by turning the horse out where possible, and reducing dust and fungal spores in feed and bedding is essential.
How to avoid equine respiratory diseases
Viruses such as Equine Influenza are highly contagious and can spread quickly within a group of horses. Infections are generally associated with other symptoms, such as a raised temperature, swollen glands, depression and loss of appetite – the horse will be unwell in himself. Anti-biotics are not effective against viruses and generally the horse’s immune system will fight off the infection itself. If your horse has a respiratory infection it is very important to minimise the dust in his environment as he will be more prone to developing chronic airway irritation. Good hygiene, isolation and improved ventilation (preferably turn out) will reduce the risk of secondary infection. If your horse is regularly coming into contact with others, such as when competing, at a busy livery yard etc, a flu vaccination is recommended as a preventative.
Tips for maintaining a healthy respiratory system:
– Remove your horse from the stable before mucking out, so he is not inhaling the dust you are disturbing
– Avoid working him in dusty indoor arenas
– Do not feed dusty or mouldy forage
– Feed wet or steamed hay to reduce the chance of inhaling dust
– Use low dust bedding
– Have well ventilated stables with openings at the front and back to allow the air to flow
– Clean the stable regularly – ammonia can damage the lungs
– Allow your horse as much turnout as possible