Traditionally, we’ve known Equine Asthma (EA) better as Inflammatory Airway Disease (IAD) which is now termed mild to moderate asthma, and Recurrent Airway Obstruction (RAO) which is now termed severe asthma. A horse suffering from asthma exhibits the same symptoms you expect to see in humans with asthma: coughing, wheezing, and struggling to breathe.
If your horse has been diagnosed with asthma, do not panic! There are many ways you can help your horse, especially through management and environmental changes.
The difference between both forms of EA
Mild to moderate EA typically affects younger horses. These horses might not necessarily show increased respiratory effort at rest, but signs such as poor performance and intermittent coughing might start to appear during exercise. This condition is caused by inhaled allergens from the horse’s environment, mainly dust.
Severe EA generally affects older horses. These horses will show increased respiratory effort at rest, exercise intolerance, coughing and nasal discharge. This form of EA is frequently triggered by allergens in the horse’s environment.
What to do if your horse has EA
Treatment of these conditions involves medical therapy such as corticosteroids and bronchodilator medications which must be prescribed by your vet. Horses that experience environmental triggers will suffer from airway inflammation and mucous production which can affect optimal airflow.
Horses with compromised respiratory health require long-term support and immediate management changes. If triggers are not addressed, it is common for the condition to remain prominent.
Some management changes can involve:
Feeding a respiratory supplement alongside prescribed medication
Feeding clean, low-dust hay or soak before feeding
Using low-dust bedding if a horse is stabled
Cleaning out stables frequently
Enhancing ventilation in stables
Avoiding aisle sweeping/blowing and stall cleaning when horses are in stables
Lecithin: Phospholipids are key components of the surfactant fluid that lines the lungs. Surfactants are important for the regulation of liquid balance within the airway. They improve large airway clearance of fluid and help support the control of the pulmonary inflammatory response (e.g., during allergic reactions to dust).
Chlorophyll: A potent antioxidant that mops up free radicals, preventing them from damaging cells, and protects against oxidative stress by inhibiting the cascade of free radicals. Chlorophyll also helps to dissolve mucous in the lungs by reducing inflammation.
VitaminA: An antioxidant that has a role in decreasing inflammation, alongside chlorophyll, and enhances chlorophyll’s activity.
Vitamin E: An essential nutrient that cannot be synthesised by the horse and is a potent antioxidant that protects cell membranes from oxidative damage.
Vitamin D3: High levels of vitamin D in the blood are linked to superior lung function (Wright 2005).