Veterinary scientists are calling for the term “equine asthma” to be used to describe breathing ailments in horses, which are now among the most common veterinary problems.

In the May issue of Equine Veterinary Education, Canadian professor Jean-Pierre Lavoie wrote an article titled: “Is the time primed for equine asthma?”

He argues that the complex and evolving terminology that has been used to describe inflammatory syndromes affecting the lower airways of horses “has led to confusion for veterinarians and clients alike”.

Prof Lavoie said evidence has emerged recently to show that inflammatory airway disease (IAD) and heaves in horses “share striking similarities with human asthma”.

The professor puts forward the case that “equine asthma” should be used to describe chronic, non-infectious lower airway conditions currently known as IAD and heaves or RAO (recurrent airway obstruction).

The terminology would both improve “communication with clients” and would also provide “a wide umbrella, which remains appropriate as the diversity of the disease manifestations (phenotypes) and underlying immunological processes emerge in the future,” he added.

In the article he charts the many terminologies used to describe breathing problems in horses, from “heaves” or “broken wind” — which has been used for more than 30 years — to new terms introduced following recent research, such as “tracheal IAD”and “summer pasture associated pulmonary disease”.

The term equine asthma “allows for both flexibility and consistency over time, as some terms fall out of favour” said Prof Lavoie.

Cases of horses prone to breathing problems in the summer are likely to rise this week as temperatures soar to the high eighties in parts of the south, and forecasters are warning of “very high” pollen counts.

H&H vet Karen Coumbe added: “We have seen several cases of horses with non-infectious respiratory disease recently. A large number can be controlled with changes in management to minimise exposure to the common allergens such as dust, moulds, fungal spores or pollen.”

How to manage respiratory problems

* Horses with respiratory disease benefit from minimal dust environments
* Turn out as much as possible and avoid hay and straw, unless horses are allergic to pollen, in which case turn-out will not help
* If stabled, make sure stables are well ventilated with good air flow
* Soak or steam hay thoroughly or consider using haylage
* Choose dust free bedding, ideally for all horses using the same airspace
* Feed from the floor
* Keep the muck heap as far away as possible from stable and keep the affected horse out when you muck out

Ref: Horse & Hound; 9 July 2015