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!