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!
Please 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.
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.
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…..
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!