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  • February 01, 2024 4 min read

    Equine Asthma: Understanding, Recognising, and Preventing Respiratory Issues

    Equine asthma, formerly known as "heaves" or "COPD" (Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease), is a common respiratory condition affecting horses. It can significantly impact a horse's performance, well-being, and overall quality of life. This article aims to provide an overview of equine asthma, including what it is, clinical signs, and how it can be prevented, with a particular focus on the role of anti-inflammatory feeds such as linseed, chia seeds, and fish oil.

    What is Equine Asthma?

    Equine asthma is a chronic respiratory condition characterized by inflammation and constriction of the airways in horses. It primarily affects the lower airways, including the bronchi and bronchioles. This condition can be triggered by exposure to various environmental irritants and allergens, leading to the development of inflammatory changes within the airway tissues.

    There are two main forms of equine asthma:

    1. Recurrent Airway Obstruction (RAO): Also known as "heaves," RAO typically affects mature horses, often those over six years old. It is primarily caused by exposure to allergens such as dust, mold, and pollen found in hay, straw, and bedding. RAO is characterised by periods of coughing, nasal discharge, and labored breathing, especially during or after exercise.
    1. Inflammatory Airway Disease (IAD): IAD generally affects younger horses and can be linked to infections or chronic exposure to irritants. Clinical signs may include coughing, nasal discharge, and exercise intolerance.

    Clinical Signs of Equine Asthma

    Recognising the clinical signs of equine asthma is crucial for early diagnosis and intervention. Some common signs include:

    1. Coughing: Persistent coughing, especially during or after exercise, is a hallmark symptom of equine asthma. Horses may have a dry, hacking cough.
    1. Increased Respiratory Rate: Affected horses may display an elevated respiratory rate, even at rest. This rapid breathing is often shallow and accompanied by increased abdominal effort.
    1. Nasal Discharge: Equine asthma can cause a clear or white nasal discharge.
    1. Labored Breathing: Horses with asthma may show signs of labored breathing, particularly after physical exertion. You may notice flaring nostrils and increased abdominal effort when they inhale and exhale.
    1. Exercise Intolerance: Horses with equine asthma tend to fatigue more quickly during exercise, and their performance may decline.
    1. Reduced Appetite and Weight Loss: Chronic respiratory issues can lead to a reduced appetite, weight loss, and a decline in overall body condition.
    1. Increased Respiratory Effort at Rest: In severe cases, horses may exhibit increased respiratory effort even when at rest.

    Preventing Equine Asthma

    Preventing equine asthma is essential for maintaining a horse's health and performance. While some factors, such as genetics, are beyond our control, many measures can help reduce the risk of developing asthma or manage its symptoms effectively. Proper management practices, including environmental modifications and nutrition, play a significant role in prevention.

    1. Improve Ventilation and Reduce Dust: Adequate ventilation in stables and barns is crucial for minimising dust and allergen exposure. Consider installing fans, using dust-free bedding, and wetting hay before feeding to reduce airborne particles.
    1. Provide High-Quality Forage: Feeding high-quality hay and forage with low dust and mould levels is essential. Soaking hay before feeding can further reduce dust and allergens.
    1. Turnout Time: Allow horses access to pasture and turnout whenever possible. Fresh air and natural grazing help improve respiratory health.
    1. Avoid Smoking and Other Air Pollutants: Smoking and exposure to other airborne pollutants, such as diesel exhaust fumes, should be avoided around horses with respiratory issues. It is also recommended to not use blowers to clean stable aisles when horses are present. 
    1. Maintain a Clean Environment: Regularly clean and disinfect stables, water buckets, and feed troughs to reduce the accumulation of dust and allergens.
    1. Proper Exercise and Training: Ensure horses are gradually introduced to exercise and training regimens. Overexertion can exacerbate respiratory issues. Monitor exercise intensity and adjust as needed.

    Anti-Inflammatory Feeds for Equine Asthma Prevention

    Incorporating anti-inflammatory feeds into a horse's diet can be an effective way to manage and prevent equine asthma. These feeds can help reduce inflammation in the airways, making it easier for the horse to breathe comfortably. Some commonly used anti-inflammatory feeds include:

    1. Linseed (Flaxseed): Linseed is rich in omega-3 fatty acids, specifically alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), which has anti-inflammatory properties. Feeding linseed can help reduce airway inflammation in horses with asthma. It can be fed as freshly ground seeds, or in oil form.
    1. Chia Seeds: Chia seeds are another excellent source of omega-3 fatty acids, particularly ALA. They can be included in a horse's diet to help manage inflammation.
    1. Fish Oil: Fish oil is a potent source of eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), both of which have anti-inflammatory effects. Including fish oil in a horse's diet can contribute to better respiratory health.
    1. Vitamin E: Vitamin E is an antioxidant that can help reduce oxidative stress and inflammation in the airways. Including vitamin E-rich feeds or supplements in the horse's diet can be beneficial.

    It's important to note that dietary changes should be made gradually and under the guidance of a veterinarian or equine nutritionist. The specific anti-inflammatory feeds and dosages should be tailored to the individual horse's needs.

    Oakford Stockfeeds offers a range of feeds that can act as an anti-inflammatory. Visit our store online or in-store today to view our range of products. 

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