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!