How to Avoid Equine Asthma and Respiratory Problems with Chicken House Management

For the benefit of this article, the name barn is mentioned in reference to the interior stall. However, this information can also be used with reference to the stable environment in an outdoor setting.

Equine asthma is a well-known problem that affects horses all over the world. Although the terminology in some countries may differ, the disease and its symptoms are the same. In this article, Equine Guelph provides information on how to avoid asthma and other related respiratory problems that our horses can suffer from.

Article provided by Equine Guelph

Have you ever walked into a barn and felt your lungs being strained? Imagine how a horse feels, especially if it spends hours in a stall. When horses exercise, they absorb up to 16 times more air per second than their human owners. Their lung capacity is enormous, as is their athletic ability, unless compromised by environmental factors. A lot can be done from a management standpoint to minimize dust and harmful particles in a horse’s environment while maximizing athletic function and overall comfort in the process.

When horses exercise, they absorb up to 16 times more air per second than their human owners.

Even a horse showing no signs of respiratory problems can be attacked by airborne particles. Every effort should be made to minimize dust to prevent irreversible respiratory problems.

The culprits we can control

  • Keep hay and bedding fresh, as these are two of the main sources of mold and particles in a horse’s environment
  • Consider wetting or spraying hay before feeding or alternatives to hay if the horse is triggered by hay in its feed. There has been research done on steamed hay versus soaked hay and the varying nutrient losses to consider, so be sure to discuss this option with your vet and nutritionist.
  • Consider highly absorbent chips on straw.
  • Ventilation is a major concern when building a barn, but many stables are lacking. Make sure there is good air circulation in your barn and periodically remove cobwebs while cleaning your barn.
  • Horses absorb 64 to 70 liters of air per second when exercising. The feet in the arena must be regularly maintained to prevent dust from rising in this air.
  • Do not sweep dust and debris from the barn driveway into your horse’s stall, in fact do not sweep at all when the horses are in the barn.
  • Wet the ground before you begin and wear a mask for your own respiratory health.
  • Keep horses outdoors as much as possible, unless a medical condition requires a stall.

See Equine Guelph’s Defend Against Dust fact sheet.

Also check out this awesome infographic shared by our [Equine Guelph] godfather, Boehringer Ingelheim.

Signs of equine asthma

  • cough
  • nasal secretions from mucus production
  • to be intolerant
  • difficulty expelling air
  • line of uplift
  • inflammation of the lung epithelium and narrowing of the bronchi (can be confirmed by BAL bronchoalveolar lavage)

Dr Dorothee Bienzle illustrates the signs of flare-ups / asthma in this video.

Why practice diligent prevention?

Irreversible damage can be caused by the cumulative effect of years of exposure to dust, mold and other particulate matter.

If a horse is coughing and asthma is suspected, the veterinarian will closely examine the horse’s environment to determine the cause of the lung irritation. They will look at any potential causes which could include: dusty environments, smoke inhalation, pollen or other allergens and particles in pasture or hay.

Do not wait for your horse to start coughing to practice prevention. If your horse begins to cough, immediately call the vet to investigate the cause. When it comes to early diagnosis of respiratory disease, aggressive treatment and environmental management are of paramount importance.

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August’s Everything Horse Magazine – read digital issue here for free – click cover image

Everything Horse Magazine August 2021 Issue 44

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Soak Vs Steamed Hay: Improve Respiratory Health

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