The amount of information on Equine respiratory diseases is so large and complex that it can leave you quite perplexed as to the basics. We’ve broken it down for you so that you know how to identify any issues in your horse, how best to avoid respiratory issues and lastly how to get your horse through it all.
The first thing to understand is that Equine respiratory diseases fall into several key areas. These are viral, bacterial, immune or mechanical in nature. If you thought that was broad already then it won’t surprise you to learn that they can and can’t be contagious, both severe and debilitating and then ranging all the way down to plain annoying for the horse in question, and can affect either the upper or lower airways.
Look for the signs
Let’s look at the most common ones. They are Heaves, Equine Influenza and Strangles. All three are the most common and can be severe for your horse if not diagnosed and treated properly.
Reactive Airways Obstruction better known as heaves is a non-infectious, chronic condition that is triggered by exposure to dust and mold that are commonly found in hay and straw in primarily older horses. As the small airways become obstructed and blocked the horse has to work harder to pull air in and out of their lungs as opposed to a healthy horse. One of the first signs that your horse has heaves is a cough. As the disease progresses they will become less tolerant to exercise, have nasal discharge as well as flare the nostrils and may develop a wheeze. Treatment for heaves starts at home first. Removing old hay and straw and maintaining an airy stable will go a long way in assisting your horse. Ideally horses suffering from heaves should be kept out to pasture where they can be grass fed and exposed to a lot less dust. Your veterinarian will prescribe anti-inflammatory drugs which will assist in their comfort. Monitoring your horse for any changes is essential and should anything change consult your horses health care provider for advice. It is important to note that heaves cannot be cured. However managing their environment and medical care can minimize future suffering.
Is highly contagious and while the incubation time is one to five days with proper care and treatment your horse can recover in several weeks. Equine Influenza has two strains. Equine-1 virus affects the heart muscle whilst equine-2 is much more severe.
Symptoms of equine influenza are high temperatures, a deep dry cough, clear nasal discharge, lethargy and a reluctance to move due to stiffness. Unvaccinated horses have a 100% chance of becoming infected once in contact with this influenza and even greater still is the chance of infected foals developing pneumonia.
There is no treatment, however isolating a horse that you believe may be suffering this virus from others will reduce the contamination. All equipment, transport vehicles, stables, fences and stalls will need to be cleaned with a disinfectant to control the spread.
Having your horses vaccinated will not prevent them from contracting the virus however it may go a long way in reducing the long term impact and severity of the virus on your horse.
Strangles is a highly contagious and infectious disease of the upper respiratory tract and affects most horses during colder periods in the year. Highly recognizable symptoms include high temperatures, loss of appetite, coughing, a discharge of yellow pus from the nose and enlarged glands in the head and neck that often form abscesses.
Abscesses may take up to two weeks to rupture and drain. During this time keeping your horse calm and isolated from others will assist on their road to recovery. Washing burst abscesses with water and antiseptic will take some of the pressure off your horses’ immune system. Your veterinarian can prescribe anti-inflammatory drugs once a diagnosis has been made. Isolation will require a period of between 6-8 weeks to control contamination to other horses.
Vaccination will help reduce risk to your horse but is no guarantee. As with most vaccinations regular boosters will assist in reducing the severity or chance of exposure. A good diet with an added probiotic will go a long way to keeping your horse’s immune system in tip top shape.
The severity and type of Equine Respiratory diseases isn’t light bedtime reading but keeping both yourself and your team up to date with fact sheets and best management practices will help with early diagnosis, treatment and reduce cross contamination.