Coughing Critters

Coughing Critters

Tuesdays with Tony

Coughing. Dogs do it, horses do it, goats do it, people do it. Cats only very, very rarely cough because we are far more sophisticated than that. But what does it mean? Is it concerning, or is it normal? Well, neither my docs nor I can answer about the people part, but I can divulge some of my vast cat knowledge about the rest of the species.

Coughing Questions

So, you’ve got an animal that’s coughing. Should you have them seen by their veterinarian? First off, if you’re asking that question, then you at least need to call the vet and ask. My docs would always rather see something that could have waited than not see something that couldn’t have waited. Let’s talk about some of the extra information they’ll need to come see a coughing patient.

  • Has the animal traveled anywhere, is it new, or have new animals come into the home?
  • Is there sneezing or nasal discharge as well?
  • Is the animal feeling okay and acting like themselves, or do they feel sick?
  • Have you taken a temperature? If so, what is it? (this mostly applies to large animals)
  • They may ask you to describe the cough, or even video it if that’s possible
  • Does the cough happen after exercise, in the morning, after eating, or just all the time?
  • Is it just the one animal, or is there a group that’s coughing?

The point this friendly feline is trying to make is that there is a whole variety of causes of cough, and they’re going to be different depending on the species and age of the patient. The answers to those questions I’ve listed are going to help my docs determine if your animal needs to be seen today or this week, and if they need to wear extra gear (called PPE, or personal protective equipment).

I’ll go down a rabbit hole for just a second here and talk about something called a reverse sneeze. I know, I know, we’re on coughing, not sneezing. But, when dogs and cats do this thing called a reverse sneeze, it can’t look pretty scary and like they’re coughing and choking. Really, a reverse sneeze is a harmless reaction to airway irritation and is relatively common, especially in dogs. Go on that YouTube place you people like to watch cat videos on and type in “reverse sneeze” for an example of what I’m talking about. If your animal is doing that, it’s probably nothing to worry about, though videoing any behavior that concerns you for your veterinarian is always a good idea.

Springhill Equine Veterinary Clinic


Okay, let’s go back to some of the causes of cough. We’ll start with the tried-and-true patients of Springhill EQUINE: horses. Coughing horses absolutely need a physical exam by a veterinarian. When you call to tell us you have a coughing horse, we’re going to ask you one question right off the bat, so prepare yourself now. Can you guess what it is?

What is the horse’s temperature?

I’m going to be very disappointed if you tell my docs you haven’t taken one yet, and even more so if you say you don’t have a thermometer. Go study my writings on basic preparedness for horses and on horse vital signs for more info. Or watch this amazing video on my YouTube channel. A coughing horse with a fever is a big concern, because we worry about scary things like pneumonia or other severe disease. A coughing horse with a normal temperature still likely needs to be seen, but it might be seen later in the week when you don’t have to pay an emergency fee and my docs don’t have to drop what they’re doing and run to your farm. One of the less scary, common causes of coughing in horses is inflammatory airway disease, or heaves. Check out my writings on that as well. Or listen to our podcast on the topic. Whatever scratches your chin.


Now for ruminants, large and small (that’s cows, sheep, and goats for the uninitiated). The very occasional cough here and there can be “normal.” When I say occasional, I mean something like one time per week or per few weeks, not multiple times per day. If you call about a coughing ruminant, we’re going to ask about nasal discharge, travel history, and other animals in the group. If you’re able to get a temperature before my docs come out, that’s fantastic, but if you aren’t, that’s okay. What isn’t okay is not having a way to corral and restrain your ruminants when my doc comes to see them. It’s no fun having to chase a wily goat around a 5-acre field just to take a temperature.

Dogs and Cats

For dogs and cats, my docs likely won’t ask you to take a temperature at home. We small animals (that’s small in stature, but large in personality, thank you very much) require a much gentler touch than our hooved counterparts, so leave the vetting up to the professionals. What they will ask is all about vaccination and travel history, and about what preventive medications you’ve got your animals on. Prevention for what, you ask? Heartworm, of course. If you aren’t up to speed on that, check out my blog here for all the deets.

Heartworm is one of the major causes of coughing in dogs and can be a cause of coughing in cats as well. If your dog hasn’t been tested for heartworm disease or isn’t on prevention, Dr. Speziok is absolutely going to want to run a heartworm test. The other thing we’ll likely want to do is take chest radiographs. This involves your pet laying on an x-ray plate on both their side and their back to get multiple images of their chest. The doctors are looking at heart and lungs for changes that would indicate disease.

Springhill Equine Veterinary Clinic

Coughing can also be caused by heart disease such as congestive heart failure, and things growing in the lungs such as fungus or tumors. In cats, coughing is often a sign of feline asthma, which requires multiple medications, usually including inhalers, to manage. I shudder at the thought.

Coughing in dogs and cats can also be caused by infectious agents. I’m sure you’ve heard of “Kennel Cough.” This is a bit of a misnomer because it can happen from any nose-to-nose contact with other dogs or cats, not just from a boarding kennel. Still, dogs that are going to boarding kennels, groomers, trainers, or dog parks regularly should be vaccinated for Bordetella, which is the bacterial vaccine known as the “kennel cough vaccine”. This vaccine, like many vaccines, does not necessarily completely prevent the disease, but it will lessen the severity if your pet does get it.

There is another, more worrisome respiratory disease that dogs should also be vaccinated for when possible, called Canine Influenza. This vaccine isn’t always available, but if your dog is around other dogs at all, they should be vaccinated for flu. The good news with this is that the canine flu virus mutates less often than the human flu virus, so their vaccine works way better than yours.

If you haven’t figured it out by now, coughing is not a simple thing. There are a ton of causes, way more than I’ve gone over here. Coughing is almost never normal, so should always prompt a call to your animals’ veterinarian. They can help direct you to the best next course of action to get your animal feeling back to their normal self.  

Until next week,

~ Tony

P.S. I’m on a mission to hit 800 subscribers by the end of the year. If you haven’t already, scroll down a bit further to the big purple box and sign up. I promise I won’t send you anything other than a link to my blog every Monday (that’s right, a day before the rest of the world gets it!). That’s a good human, you can do it!

Tuesdays with Tony is the official blog of Tony the Clinic Cat at Springhill Equine Veterinary Clinic in Newberry, Florida. If you liked this blog, please subscribe below, and share it with your friends on social media! For more information, please call us at (352) 472-1620, visit our website at, or follow us on Facebook!

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More Adventures of the Horse Doctor's Husband
Tuesdays with Tony – Pollen

Tuesdays with Tony – Pollen

We in the animal world think it’s fun to display our allergies in fun ways designed to mystify our humans.  For instance, I myself suffer from allergies.  My allergies manifest themselves as itchy skin.  Luckily, I live at a veterinary clinic.  My minions do their best to manage my allergies, but I do my best to come up with ways to avoid their treatments.  Turns out cats and horses are similar in this way.

It’s not snot

Usually, horses don’t get the runny noses and itchy eyes you humans encounter.  Instead, they get itchy skin, diarrhea, and sometimes coughing and wheezing, but very rarely straight up snot.  Diarrhea is most often a food allergy.  Itchy skin can be caused by allergies to pretty much anything: food, oak trees, sawdust, gnats, the sky, sunshine.  Coughing and wheezing are more common with allergies to pollen and dust.

What are they allergic to?!?  

The best way to treat allergies is to avoid the thing you’re allergic to.  Right.  Because it’s easy to avoid bugs and pollen in Florida.  So what’s a cat to do? There are a couple of options.  One is to treat the horse for allergies to anything.  The other option is to identify what your horse is allergic to, then treat with a combination of allergy shots and avoidance.

Let’s talk about identifying what your horse is allergic to first.  Just like they do for humans, my Docs do what’s called intradermal allergy testing.  They take very small amounts of allergens, like oak pollen, and inject it under the skin.  Next, they wait a few hours to see how big a bump that allergen makes on the skin.  The bumps get ranked on size, and a custom allergy shot mix is made for your horse based on that.

The other option is the broad-based drug approach.  This is like you humans taking benadryl or Claritin.  Horses can take Claritin, too.  Okay, they do better on Zyrtec, but whatever.  These treatments are aimed at reducing the entire body’s allergic response, but, as you humans know, there can be side effects.  The most common side effect is drowsiness.  This side effect makes many of these drugs a big no-no for show horses.

Making life livable with allergies

Now that you know the options for treating allergies, let’s talk about real world management.

Allergy shots work really well for the coughing, wheezing horse.  However, they do take a while (as in a year) to kick in.  Allergy shots start with a low dose, then gradually increase over about 2-3 months.  These shots get the body to tone down its response to allergens.  This means less coughing and wheezing.

Cetirizine (the drug in Zyrtec) and dexamethasone are the most common drugs my doctors use.  Cetirizine is cheap and easy to give, but again, can’t be used if you have drug testing at your shows. Dexamethasone is even easier to give, and can be used if drug testing is performed.  Depending on your horse, farm, and situation, our Docs can help you design the plan that works best for you.

There is a new drug available to help allergic horses:  Apoquel.  This drug has been used in dogs with some pretty fabulous results.  My Docs are among the first in the country to use this drug on itchy and wheezy horses.  I hear the result have been spectacular.

Avoiding Allergies

Okay, so let’s just agree that this is not a possibility for most allergens.  The only one it is sort of, kind of possible for is gnats.  This is done by covering your horse with fly sheets and masks from head to toe, dousing them in fly spray, IBH salve (ask my humans, they have it at the Clinic), and keeping them in front of fans at sunrise and sunset.

Need help in the eternal battle against allergies?  Call my humans.  They don’t just treat allergic horses, they own allergic horses.

Until next week,


Tuesdays with Tony is the official blog of Tony the Clinic Cat at Springhill Equine Veterinary Clinic in Newberry, Florida. If you liked this blog, please subscribe below, and share it with your friends on social media! For more information, please call us at (352) 472-1620, visit our website at, or follow us on Facebook!

Tuesdays with Tony – Huffing and Puffing

Tuesdays with Tony – Huffing and Puffing

Yes we all know I’m not the most athletic critter on the planet. But heck I’m management; I don’t have to exert myself too often. When I do decide to chase off after a squirrel, I find I need to take a moment to catch my breath. After a brief respite in the sun, I am ready to chase that pesky squirrel again. It doesn’t work that way for some cats, horses, or people. Yep, I finally found something us cats have in common with horses (and people but I’m trying to ignore that part). We all get asthma and we all get it because of allergies.

Walk in the barn at feed time and listen for a cough. Horses with asthma will nearly always cough when they are eating grain, especially if it’s dry. Even the smallest amount of dust triggers their over reactive airways making them cough a dry, hacking cough. Cats experience a similar cough when they have asthma. Also there is no hairball after the cough. Another clue it’s asthma in cats anyway. I’ve never seen a horse cough up a hairball. Anyway back to asthma. Other clues your horse may have asthma are sudden poor performance for no good reason and really fast breathing after exercise that takes forever to slow down. Some horses will get so bad you can hear them wheeze when breathing without a stethoscope. On other horses you need a stethoscope to hear wheezes and crackles. Our Docs are happy to show you how to listen for lung sounds. I have never heard these sounds, since they don’t make cat stethoscopes but I have a request in to the manufacturer. How am I supposed to do a proper Cat Scan without a stethoscope?

What are we going to do about the asthma? Well I’m not going to do anything because that’s what I do. My Docs are going to treat the allergies that lead to asthma. Asthma happens when the tubes the air goes through in the lungs gets clogged with mucous. The lungs release the mucous to try to get rid of pollen and dust. So the Docs try to reduce the mucous produced in response to pollen and dust, decrease the amount of pollen/dust in the environment, and help that mucous get out. The easiest, most economical, and most effective treatment is dexamethasone. This is a steroid which is given by mouth. Dexamethasone tells the immune system to quit worrying about the dust and pollen. Unfortunately, dexamethasone can have some nasty side effects when used at high doses for a long time so we have to be careful. Other steroids can be inhaled. This minimizes side effects but can be very expensive. There are a couple treatment options to help get the mucous out, such as Ventipulmin. Our Docs usually use these early in the treatment process then slowly taper them.

Management changes are really important for horses with asthma. The only way to change the pollen is to move far away but dust is a different story. Remember how I said that coughing happens around feed time? Wetting down feed and, more importantly, soaking hay reduces this source of dust. In fact some humans did a study about hay and found a 25% reduction in symptoms just be removing dry hay from these horses diets! Bedding is another important source of dust. Using the pelleted type bedding reduces mold and frequent wetting down decreases dust. The effects of pollen can be minimized by keeping your horse in the barn with a fan on them. Sure it doesn’t work great but it’s about the only option we have here in Florida short of moving to Arizona.

Since asthma is an allergy problem identifying what your horse is allergic to is very important. Our Docs do this skin thing that helps figure out what is causing the worst response. They call it allergy testing. A small amount of a potential allergen is injected under the skin. The Docs come back in a few hours and see if there is any swelling around the allergen. Based on what causes the most swelling, they make a super special shot to help the horse learn to tolerate those things. It’s pretty cool.

Our Docs are seeing lots of horses with asthma right now. If your horse suddenly isn’t right, give them a call and see if asthma is the problem. And put our 8th Annual Open House and See Tony Event on your calendar for October 22nd. Food, fun, prizes, learning, and you get to see me in cat!tony-on-hay

The Naughty Pony  August Edition

The Naughty Pony August Edition

 legsPlease be sure to check your trailer floor for rotten areas.  Many of you saw this horse on our Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter feeds.  Dr. Lacher and Charly pieced him back together and now begins the healing.  He is looking at several months of bandaging but with some luck he will be back to good soon.

Main Topic:
The sun is just peeking over the horizon in the morning as you head out to feed your horse. You open the feed can, scoop out the morning ration, and dump it in the feed bucket. As you walk away you hear a dry, raspy cough. “Probably just the dusty grain,” you think and remind yourself to ask Springhill Equine about it the next time they come out to the farm. What does that cough really mean? Allergic airway disease.
Allergic airway disease has had a bit of an identity crisis over the years. It has been called: Heaves, asthma, Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD), heaves (again), and currently Recurrent Airway Obstruction (RAO). All of these are our fancy names for constriction of the small airways in the lungs due to allergies. The allergic response causes an increase in mucous in the airway and makes the muscles around those same airways tighten up. It’s an unfair combination which makes it very difficult to breath.
So why the dry cough? These horses typically breathe in fairly well but can’t breathe out without pushing extra hard. We call this abdominal breathing. One way these horses manage to get a good breath out is by coughing.   The other thing that leads to coughing is called airway hyper-reactivity. This means anything that touches the airway causes a coughing fit. Dust from grain and/or hay is the most common cause of coughing at feeding time for allergic horses.
Recently there has been a lot of research on these allergic airway horses. Sadly much of it has not progressed to finding new treatments, but we are learning more about the genetics behind allergies, what different symptoms mean, and how well currently available treatments do work. Most older research focused on the effects of allergic airway disease on the racehorse only. Here are the highlights of a few recent papers. If you hear your horse coughing on a regular basis chances are very good they have allergic airway disease. Allergic airway horses are statistically way more likely to have hit this wonderful genetic trifecta: allergic airway disease, allergic skin, and Anhidrosis (non-sweating). Dexamethasone works well in most allergic airway horses but not all. For the horses Dexamethasone does not work on, inhalers provide a safe and viable option.
Treatment is targeted at reducing the allergic response. Dexamethasone is a short acting (about 24 hours) steroid that can be given by injection or orally. Especially during the summer Springhill Equine Doctors will usually start horses on Dexamethasone to get symptoms under control. Typically the dose starts very high and tapers every few days until we find what makes your horse happy. Changes in the weather, pollen levels, and dustiness of hay or grain may require a brief increase in Dexamethasone dosages.
For horses who are unable to tolerate Dexamethasone or don’t respond to it, metered dose inhalers can be used. Steroid inhalers are used most commonly for human asthma. Inhalers present some challenges for horse owners. First how do you get your horse to breathe deeply when you want them to? Answer: you don’t. Second, inhalers can be very expensive and time consuming. To solve the first problem we use an extender which seals over one nostril that allows us to time the “puffs” with the horse’s breathing. For the second problem we discuss options with you, the horse owner, and come up with the best solution.
Once winter comes around Intradermal Allergy Testing can be performed. Allergy testing allows us to identify what allergens bother your horse. Once we know what bothers your horse most we can begin shots, which over time teach the immune system to tolerate those allergens. Allergy shots can offer real help to allergic airway horses but it takes time. It is generally well towards the middle of the second year of therapy before we see benefits.   But those are fantastic benefits. We are able to reduce the length of time and dosages of drug therapy these horses are on.
Moral of the story: if you heard a cough, give us a call. The better we control allergic airway disease the longer your horse stays happy, healthy, and ride-able.
Erica’s Corner
Whew! There I did it. I took a breath!!! I am very glad to have Dr. Vurgason here and settled in. It means I get to sneak away to the beach for a long weekend. I am ready for slightly cooler weather so my non-sweater starts sweating again and a little less rain so her constant rain rot can catch a break but such is summer in Florida. The extra breathing room has also meant my two younger horses are getting ridden more. I have seen this as a blessing and a curse all at the same time. I love the way younger horses advance so quickly as they learn the big lessons of life but I hate teaching them! They are sometimes painful lessons for the rider…..
 Tech Spot       
Springhill Equine is here to help you through any and all lameness issues your horse might be having, whether it is painfully obvious or ever so subtle, we can help! Dr. Lacher’s extensive background in performance horse lameness coupled with all of our new technology makes Springhill Equine your one stop solution for lame horses and ponies. After performing a lameness exam, flexing and blocking if necessary we also can utilize our digital X-ray and ultrasound machines to pin point the issue and develop the quickest most effective rehab program for your horse. Once the source of the issue is revealed there are several new procedures we are performing to help speed up the recovery process and keep our horses performing longer including IRAP, PRP, and FES. If you are at all concerned about one of your’s limping or even just feeling a little funny please don’t hesitate to call!