Coughing can be due to a virus or, more rarely, a bacterial infection. But if a horse only develops an irritating cough when he is stabled, the cause is almost always an allergy to dust and spores.
Roger Lee MRCVS discusses winter coughing in horses and what owners can do to help prevent them…
1. 24/7 turnout
One easy way to cure the problem of winter coughing is to leave your horse outside 24/7. With a waterproof rug, field shelter and plenty of feed, even horses in full work can winter outside very well.
However, if leaving your horse out is impractical, the next best way to tackle equine asthma is to improve air quality.
2. Maintain a clean bed
Ammonia from urine-soaked bedding is irritant to the lungs. Keep the bed clean and dig out wet patches daily. If you are using rubber mats, make sure that there is plenty of bedding on top of them, and that urine is not building up underneath.
3. Improve air circulation
Simply having the top stable door open is not sufficient — there needs to be a through flow of air, so open wide any windows at the back. If there isn’t a window, remove some boards to create one. If you are worried about draughts, put an extra rug on your horse. If your horse is in a barn, give him the front stable where the air quality is best. A simple test of air quality is to stand at the back of the stable and take several deep breaths. If the air smells stale and dusty, it is not going to be good for your horse’s lungs.
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4. Feeding regimes to reduce dust
Feed dampened hay or haylage; forage is the single biggest source of dust and spores in the stable. Feed from the floor as this creates four times less inhaled dust than a hay net. Hay steamers are very good at eliminating dust and spores.
5. Invest in dust-free bedding
Bed your horse on dust-free shavings, paper or another low-dust alternative to straw. There is no point having one horse on shavings and soaked hay if every other horse around it is on straw, or if the yard’s hay supply is stored right outside its stable. Also try to tie your horse outside when mucking out or sweeping.
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