Although usually a winter affliction, out breaks of coughing can occur at any time. The horse must be rested and the vet called.
The vet will carry out some of the following to establish if the cough is infectious:
A full clinical examination, including listening to the lungs with a stethoscope .
An endoscopic examination of the upper respiratory tract.
Swabs from the back of the throat to test for viruses.
Taking samples of chest discharge to establish the presence of bacteria or inflammatory cells.
X-rays and ultrasound scans to determine the presence of lung abscesses.
Care and attention
Consider isolating a coughing horse where possible, particularly if it is feverish.
Initial rest is important, particularly in cases of viral pneumonia, where it can take many weeks for the respiratory tract to recover.
Controlled exercise during convalescence can help clear the airways.
Where bacteria are involved, antibiotics may be prescribed – sometimes for a prolonged time.
Anti-inflammatories help to reduce soreness and enhance the effects of other drugs; inhaled preparations are also successful.
Mucolytics loosen the discharge, allowing for easier drainage.
Broncodilators increase the airway diameter and reduce muscle spasm.
Management changes are important, particularly if COPD is involved:
Remove suspected allergens and exposing the horse to as much fresh air as possible.
Improved stable ventilation.
Store hay and straw as far away from the stable as possible.
Use an alternative bedding to straw (e.g. shavings or paper).
Use an alternative to hay, such as vacuum-packed haylage – soaked hay is a poor alternative.
Owners¨ dos and don¨ts
Many horses may appear healthy, but are not performing up to expectations. Investigation often shows that a significant number will have the beginnings of an inflammatory airway disease or lung infection. A cough may only appear at a later stage.
A few extra precautions may be all that is needed to avoid respiratory tract problems:
Vaccinateregularly against equine influenza and herpes viruses .
Use the best bedding and forage ¨ avoid dusty hay, straw and feedstuffs.
Improve stable ventilation and avoid prolonged stabling.
Spring-cleanyour stable regularly, removing animal, plant, insect and fungal debris.
Do not allow wet bedding to build up, as this will release tonic ammonia fumes.
Ensure the horse has plenty of fresh air when travelling.
While most coughs can be cured with time, failure to seek treatment, improve management or rest the horse when appropriate could irreversibly damage the respiratory tract, which can lead to the classic broken-winded horse.