Transporting: Room To Breathe

Transporting horses for long distances can be a contributing factor in the development of respiratory disease, which can last long after the trip is over. Although horse owners cannot control all elements, keeping in mind these few guidelines will
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As show and rodeo season starts in full swing, many horse owners dutifully prepare their horses for traveling by wrapping legs with protective covering, checking that the trailer flooring is sound, and making sure their horses are securely tied–all with thoughts of protecting the health and welfare of their valuable cargo. However, few give much thought to a very important consideration–what can be done to protect their horse’s lungs? Transporting horses for long distances can be a contributing factor in the development of respiratory disease, which can last long after the trip is over.

Risk Factors

Horses consume less hay and water while traveling, and when transported for extended periods of time, they can become dehydrated. Dehydration can impair pulmonary defense mechanisms that normally clear infectious material. Additionally, horses confined with their heads elevated have decreased clearance of infectious material simply due to gravity. Surfactant levels, an important substance in the lungs that helps prevent infection in the alveoli, also are decreased in horses transported for extended periods. The number of white bloods cells also increases after transport; however, these cells frequently are less effective at removing bacteria from the blood and airways. Trans-tracheal washes performed on horses after transport revealed an increase in bacterial numbers in the lower respiratory tract. Consequently, horses are exposed to higher numbers of bacteria in their lower airways at a time when their pulmonary defense mechanisms have been impaired by transport.

Other factors that contribute to the development of respiratory disease in horses being transported are environmental factors. Ammonia, particulate matter from bedding and feed, carbon monoxide, temperature extremes, poor ventilation, and overcrowding all play a role in damaging airways and decreasing resistance to disease

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Written by:

Andrew DeNome, DVM, is a 1996 graduate of Washington State University, and he is affiliated with Pioneer Equine Hospital.

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