HOUSEKEEPING - Your Horse Your Life

Q&A: Your Cough-Prone Horse

Here's what you can do to make life easier for a horse that's prone to coughing.

If your horse is prone to allergies and respiratory irritation, there are steps you can take to minimize the triggers that cause him to cough. Lindsey Moneta, DVM, a veterinarian with Pacific Crest Sporthorse in Oregon City, Oregon, answers our questions on this important horsekeeping topic.

His environment matters, right?

Yes! Your horse's living quarters can be a major aggravator of a chronic cough. If your horse lives in a stall, is it stuffy? Dusty? Smelly? If it bothers you after a few minutes, imagine how your horse feels living there. Stalls and pens should be cleaned thoroughly and frequently. Reduce the amount of dust your horse inhales by bedding with wood pellets rather than shavings or sawdust, turning him out before cleaning his stall and barn aisles, and keeping dirt aisles watered.

An environment change can also be beneficial. If your horse's cough worsens in the winter when he's confined to a barn, he may need more free access to the outdoors. The opposite may be true in the summer, when he's normally turned out more—his cough may improve if he spends more time in a well-ventilated barn.

What about arena dust?

That's especially troublesome because your horse's lungs work their hardest when you're riding him. To lessen dust and allergens, work him only on a well-watered arena, or at least schedule your rides when there are fewer other horses around to stir up the dust. On a group trail ride, arrange to ride at or near the front of the group.

Limit your horse's activity on windy days when allergens are more likely to spread. Consider the general air quality, too; for example, if you can smell or see smoke even from a distant wildfire, minimize your horse's exercise to avoid stressing his lungs.

Does his feed play a role?

Yes—respiratory irritants can lurk in your horse's feed. Inspect


When to Do More

A frequent cough or one accompanied by nasal discharge, increased respiratory rate or effort, decreased appetite, exercise intolerance, lethargy, or fever should prompt a call to your vet, as these signs may indicate a more severe respiratory disease. Abnormal noises accompanying your horse's breathing—such as roaring or wheezing—may also require additional interventions to keep your horse healthy and breathing easily.

A low-dust riding arena benefits all horses, but especially those that may be prone to coughing and respiratory irritation.

hay to ensure that it's free of mold and low on dust. Even high-quality hay can get dusty; wetting or soaking it before feeding can reduce dust. Make sure plentiful, clean water is available near your horse's feeding area. Place feed on mats or in feeders on the ground rather than in mangers or nets at or above head level; this enables gravity to encourage a natural, ongoing clearing of the respiratory tract.

When trailering long distances, remove hay and bedding from the trailer to minimize air-blown dust; instead, feed hay at rest stops. If you must provide hay during transit, wet it thoroughly beforehand and re-dampen as needed along the way.

What else will help?

A supplement rich in omega-3 fatty acids can help the allergy-prone horse. Many flax-based products marketed for skin and coat health can also be of benefit. Ask your veterinarian what might be best for your horse.

Some horses also respond favorably to over-the-counter human allergy medications such as Benadryl or Zyrtec; consider these during particularly troublesome times of the year (your vet can advise you on dosing). If your horse is a more severe case, he may require prescribed medications to reduce inflammation and dilate his airways. □

December 2015