6 Questions to Consider About Your Horse's Cough

It sounds like someone is blowing through the end of a vacuum cleaner tube—that loud, abrupt, hollow noise exploding from your horse’s open mouth when he coughs.

When you hear it, maybe you’re the type of owner who hushes everyone around so you can hear if he coughs again. Or maybe you’re the less worrisome type, telling yourself, “No big deal; everyone coughs sometimes.”

The truth is, some coughs aren’t important, and others are. In this article you’ll learn to sift through the types of equine coughs and get a better idea of how veterinarians diagnose and treat them.

The best way to get started, our sources say, is to answer these six critical cough questions.

1 / When and Where?

What situations set off your horse’s cough? “Is it associated with feeding grain or feeding hay? Coming into the barn or going out into the field? Riding or some other activity?” asks Erica Lacher, DVM, owner of Springhill Equine, in Newberry, Florida. “This information points me in the direction.”

Feed-related coughs could be due to a hyperreactive pharynx, while forage-related ones suggest a food, fungal spore, or pollen allergy, Lacher says. Horses that cough coming into the barn might be having an allergic response to dust or airborne ammonia. If allergies develop into equine asthma—which is more common in older horses—the airways swell, narrow, and fill with fluid. Summer pasture-associated asthma is the No. 1 reason pastured horses cough, she adds.

Coughing when starting to exercise might be mild mucus-clearing, which is fairly common—akin to a human athlete clearing the morning crud out of the airways. “Those coughs don’t necessarily bother me,” Lacher says.

Coughs that persist throughout an exercise session, however, could point to infection, inflammation like asthma, or a functional issue like a displaced soft palate, says Emmanuelle van Erck-­Westergren, DVM, PhD, Dipl. ECEIM, of Equine Sports Medicine Practice, in Waterloo,

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