Heaves, or COPD (Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease), in the horse is something that plagues many horse caretakers as a seasonal issue when certain respiratory irritants are more prevalent, but can be a serious year-round problem for some horses. Heaves is an asthma-like condition that can be aggravated by things such as allergens like pollen, dust and mold spores. The condition is most often attributed to things like dusty and/or moldy hay and being in a confined space where inhalation of irritants from hay and bedding are more likely.
Symptoms Of Heaves In The Horse
- Labored Breathing or "Heaving" of the Abdomen
- Weight Loss
- Reduced Stamina (exercise intolerance)
- Flaring Nostrils
- Nasal Discharge
Treatments Available For Horses
The most common treatment for Heaves or COPD is with Prednisone (or more often Prednisolone for the horse) and bronchiodilators. It helps reduce inflammation in the bronchioles/lungs, and the steriod suppresses the bodies immune response to the allergen in question. Prednisone may cause adverse drug interactions with salicylate (found in aspirin, as well as wintergreen essential oil), phenobarbital, erythromycin and cyclosporine to name just a few. Corticosteroid use in horses has also been attributed to the development of more serious health problems. However, Prednisone, is considered one of the safer steroids to use. It is important to note that any corticosteroid acts to suppress the natural immune system and therefore leaves the horse at greater risk for developing secondary infections.1
Actions you can take immediately to help alleviate your horse's symptoms:
- Make a diary of your horse's activities throughout the day and note where/when your horse's symptoms become more pronounced. This may give you a clue as to the irritant triggering your horse's condition. This can be a chemical your horse is being exposed to inadvertently, or things such as hay, feed, bedding, or even a plant in the pasture.
- Check your hay and feed. It's possible that it may be stored in such a way that allowed mold spores to develop, or gotten overly dusty.
- Allow your horse as much "outdoor" time as possible. Horses that spend the majority of their day in a dusty barn are more likely to develop respiratory problems from being in a confined space. Allow them plenty of pasture time to breath the clean fresh air.
- Support your horse's natural immune system with natural supplementation. Since Heaves is most often attributed to allergies (an overactive immune system), horses with a strong, healthy immune system are less likely to have problems or at least better deal with the condition.
There are many cost-effective natural products available for topical and internal use that can help support your horse's respiratory and immune system and help them find relief from some of the symptoms of this debilitating condition. Remembering that reduction of inflammation in the lungs is the main treatment for Heaves, so look for products that may work toward this end. Feel free to contact me for suggestions.
We want to hear from you! Please post your experiences with Heaves in the comment section below or drop by the http://www.facebook.com/HeavenlyGaitsEquineMassage so others can learn from you too 🙂
The information in this article is not meant to diagnose, treat or cure any condition or illness. Nor is it meant replace proper veterinary care. It is meant for educational purposes only. Always consult your chosen veterinary professional before starting your horse or other animal on any therapy.
- The Effects of Prednisone on an Equine – ; Accessed 1/9/15.
Lisa Carter is a Certified Equine Massage Therapist (CEMT), with multiple certifications from several different equine bodywork schools. She incorporates her knowledge and experience with Parelli Natural Horsemanship, equine bodywork, using essential oils for animals and as a veterinary technician to provide her clients with the resources they need to make informed decisions for their horses. She encourages and facilitates network building between equine health care professionals, working together to find the best combination of therapies to meet the needs of the "whole horse".
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