COPD In Horses Treatment Options Explained

Last Updated on August 23, 2022

If your horse has been diagnosed with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, then finding the best COPD in horses treatment is going to be your first priority. However, this complex condition requires not only medical management but also an overhaul of the horse’s entire management regime. COPD in horses treatment is futile unless the underlying cause is also addressed and treated.

What Is COPD In Horses?

COPD, or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, is a chronic respiratory condition in horses. You may also hear COPD referred to as heaves or recurrent airway obstruction (RAO). This condition is very similar to chronic asthma in humans.

COPD in horses is triggered by an allergic response within the lungs. This causes the airways to constrict and become smaller, making it difficult for the horse to breathe in enough air.

Thick mucus is secreted within the airways, which also limits the breathing capabilities of the horse. This allergic response is triggered by the horse breathing in dust or fungal spores, which can be found in a variety of different places.

Most cases of COPD are worse in the winter when the horse is exposed to a high level of dust or fungal spores in the barn. These normally come from hay or straw which the horse eats or is bedded on.

There is a second form of COPD in horses called summer pasture-associated obstructive pulmonary disease. This is triggered by airborne pollens released by grasses, plants, and flowers.

Check Out Horse Heel Bulb Abscess – Causes, Diagnosis, And Treatment

Symptoms Of COPD In Horses

When a horse has COPD, a classic set of symptoms is exhibited. The hosts will normally experience difficulty breathing normally, having short, shallow breaths and flared nostrils.

Horses with COPD often have a classic heave line. This is a line running diagonally along the abdominal wall. It occurs because of abnormal muscular effort when breathing, in order to try and get enough air.

It is fairly common to see nasal discharge in these horses, due to the secretion of mucus into the lung tissue. The horse may cough in an effort to expel this mucus.

A definitive diagnosis for COPD in horses is often based on a response to treatment. If the horse responds well to treatment, it can normally be safely assumed that the horse is suffering from COPD. If this is the case, a specific set of management and treatment strategies can be put into place.

Equine Respiratory Diseases

COPD In Horses Treatment Options Explained

The treatment options for horses with COPD are twofold, normally involving medical therapies, as well as changes to the management of the horse. This is because COPD is triggered by allergens, and if these allergens are not removed, the horse will continue to show symptoms.

Veterinary treatment of COPD in horses normally involves the administration of medication to ease breathing. If the horse is having an acute attack of COPD and experiencing severe breathing difficulties, bronchodilators will normally be administered to relax the constricted airways. Response to this medication is normally rapid and you will see an improvement in the horses breathing within minutes.

However, the effect of this medication is not long-lived and other medications will be required to help treat this condition. This is most commonly achieved by using corticosteroids which help to quickly reduce inflammation. These are often administered via an equine inhaler as part of a long-term management strategy for horses with COPD.

Alongside this, the medical treatment strategy should be changed to the management of the horse to reduce exposure to allergens. If the horse is allergic to dust and mold spores from hay or straw, these can be reduced by changing the bedding to a dust-free option, and soaking the hay. Horses that are allergic to pollen should be kept indoors during high-risk periods or they can wear a nose net to reduce the inhalation of allergens.

It is a good idea to keep a diary to record when attacks of COPD occur, as this can help to plan ahead for high-risk periods in the future. It is important to remember that COPD is an incurable condition and you will need to provide lifelong care. However, if exposure to allergens can be kept to the bare minimum, these horses can often carry out their normal daily activities with ease.

COPD In Horses Treatment Options Explained

Summary – COPD In Horses Treatment

So as we have learned, there is a range of COPD in horses treatment options that you can try. COPD in horses is a chronic long-term condition that many horses never fully recover from. However, with a good management strategy and the correct treatments, horses with COPD can live long, fulfilling, and active lives.

We’d love to hear your thoughts on the best COPD in horses treatment options. Do you have a horse with this difficult condition and you are struggling to get the symptoms under control? Or maybe you found a novel and interesting way to treat COPD in your horse? Leave a comment below and we will get back to you!


What is the leading cause of COPD?

OPD in horses is normally caused by an allergic inflammatory response. This is triggered by airborne pathogens, such as dust, pollen or mould spores.

What do you feed a horse with COPD?

Horses with COPD should be fed hay that is as dust free as possible. This can be soaked to reduce the level number of dust spores within the hay. Haylage is a good dust free option, but this is not suitable for feeding to all types of horses.

What can I give my horse for COPD?

/If your horse has COPD, your veterinarian will discuss a holistic treatment and management strategy with you. The aim of caring for a horse with COPD is to keep exposure to allergens to a minimum, to reduce the amount of medication the horse requires.

What is the best supplement for horses with COPD?

The best supplements for horses with COPD are those that contain omega-3 fatty acids as well as herbs such as rosemary and eucalyptus to soothe the airways.