Pneumonia in Horses: More Than Just Foals

Pneumonia is a scary disease in horses. Many owners associate this inflammation of the lungs, either by viral or bacterial infection, with young or old horses, without much thought to the horses that fall well within this age range.

However, pneumonia can affect horses of any age, even though it’s more prevalent among foals and geriatric horses. The infection can be fatal if not treated promptly. When pneumonia develops, fluid or pus fill the air sacs in the lungs, causing difficulty breathing as the lungs are not able to perform as designed. Horses can develop pneumonia in one or both lungs.

Typical clinical signs include:

  • Fever;
  • Nasal discharge;
  • Irregular breathing;
  • Raspy breathing;
  • Coughing;
  • Weight loss; and
  • Colic

Your veterinarian must make a definitive diagnosis of pneumonia and in doing so might perform thoracic radiographs, ultrasounds, or CT scans.

Equine Pneumonia Treatment

Thankfully, pneumonia is treatable (although the prognosis depends on your horse’s overall health, disease severity, and type of pneumonia). Treatment options might include oral, topical, or intravenous medication, fluid therapy, and oxygen therapy. In more severe cases, your horse might require hospitalization for treatment and observation.

Preventing Equine Pneumonia

Just as with foals and older horses, a weakened respiratory system is an open invitation for pneumonia. By being proactive and providing your horse with fresh air to breathe in his stall, you are promoting an environment conducive to health. If a horse’s respiratory tract is compromised, it becomes an easy access route for bacteria, viruses, mold, parasites, and other foreign elements.

One of the main causes of respiratory distress in horses is ammonia, a toxic substance that occurs naturally in horses’ urine and manure. And while it might be natural, it can wreak havoc on a horse’s respiratory system, putting him at risk for developing pneumonia and equine asthma.

Make sure you are doing your part to prevent pneumonia by keeping your horse’s respiratory system healthy and providing him with fresh air to breathe.