Breathing Heavy: Heaves in Horses

While we can’t cure heaves, or equine asthma, we can help manage their signs of disease. Here’s how.
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We’ve all had a hard time catching our breath at one point or another, but can you imagine if that happened on a consistent basis?

For horses with heaves, a disease much like asthma in humans, difficulties in breathing is a fact of life. And, much like asthma, we can’t cure it for our horses, but we can help to manage the signs of disease.

Heaves is an allergic reaction to inhaled particles. “Once inhaled, an allergic reaction causes the small airways in lung tissue to narrow and become obstructed,” said Gabrielle A. Landolt, DVM, PhD, Dipl. ACVIM, an assistant professor of equine medicine at the Colorado State University College of Veterinary Medicine and Biomedical Sciences. “A combination of three factors cause the airway obstruction: inflammation and thickening of the tissue lining the airways (bronchiolitis), constriction of the smooth muscles that surround them (bronchospasm), and accumulation of mucous in the airways.”

Owners might notice horses coughing more than usual in the beginning of workouts. As the disease progresses, it becomes more easily diagnosed with nasal discharge, wheezing, increased respiration rate, and exercise intolerance

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