You have finally finished stowing away your stash of hay for the year. You take a deep breath, glad that yearly chore is finally over, the barn is hazy with tiny bits of dust, hay remnants, and pollen. You’re sneezing, your horse is coughing and you both go outside for some fresh air. You begin to wonder, why is my horse coughing, about horse coughing remedies and whether or not you should call your vet.
The next day, after airing the barn out, your noble steed is still coughing and you’re starting to get concerned. The good news is, it’s not uncommon for horses to cough a few times, but knowing how to identify a persistent cough and its accompanying symptoms will help make answering those questions a lot easier.
Why Is My Horse Coughing?
Even though there are a lot of things which can probably cause a horse to cough, an early detection of the problem is key to ensuring the long term health of your furry friend. Most often than not, a horse’s cough can be linked to eating habits, exercise, age, and environmental factors. Coughing can also occur as a result of viral or bacterial infection, and knowing how to identify these conditions is important.
Environmental Factors About Horse Coughing
Just like humans, dry dusty environments with debris-filled air will cause your horse to cough. A horse may also suffer from allergies, which can be detected by a cough with an accompanying clear or light-colored discharge from their nose.
Horse Coughing While Eating
If your horse coughs while he is eating there are a number of conditions you should be on the lookout for, the most serious of which is aspiration pneumonia, which when left untreated can become deadly. Aspiration pneumonia occurs when a horse breathes a strange object into their lungs which then can create an infection.
If you notice that your horse appears to have difficulty breathing or seems to have reduced energy during exercise, especially when not due to environmental factors such as a dusty arena, it is best to stop the exercise and find out what the problem is.
Some horses will cough when exercise because, the heat and the movement may free up some mucus or move the food’s remnants into your horse’s throat. However, if the cough is persistent, then there is certainly something wrong because in most cases, prolonged coughs often lead to an aggravated condition in the horse.
Physical abnormalities in the upper respiratory tract may also cause your horse to cough due to the displacement of the pallet, as a result of exercise. Thus, your horse may be coughing in an attempt to get the pallet back where it belongs.
Conversely, if your horse coughs regularly throughout the exercise, then it means there is inflammation somewhere in the upper airways which may be caused by allergies, infection or other abnormalities. Coughing during an exercise is another condition that is best diagnosed and treated with the help of a vet.
Coughs linked to bacterial or viral infections are easily identified by checking the temperature of on’s horse. Thus, a temperature over 101.5 should signal you to call your veterinarian. Viral infections generally present itself with a higher grade fever initially, as the body tries to fight off the virus.
And if you notice your horse coughing out mucus that is yellowish or whitish, you should know that such an infection is caused by either a bacteria or virus.
For more information on when to worry about your horse’s cough, visit Equus Magazine’s article which provides a comprehensive look at various causes of coughs and how to identify them.
Horse Coughing Remedies
The truth is, while preventive medicines are the best for treatments like this, being familiar with the potential cause behind your horse’s cough will help you know the warning signs. This doesn’t mean you are completely off the hook until your vet arrives, there are steps you can take to control the environment and air quality.
If your horse has allergies or sensitivities to fine particles in the air, the best thing you can do is to reduce his exposure. A barn is a naturally dusty, gritty place. But let your horse out while cleaning the stalls, using a bedding that does create a lot of dust itself. Slightly wetting hay before feeding and paying attention to the grittiness of the grains you are feeding.
(Much like a bag of broken chips, the bottom of the grain back is likely to have accumulated a lot of the fine particles that have chipped away from the grain resulting in a dust-like powder) and not storing hay above the stall of a horse with allergies, are all good ways to reduce his exposure to debris in the air. Horses can also have allergic reactions to bug bites, shampoos, and pollen. For more information on horses’ allergies check out this link by Equus.
Feed Remedies and Physical Factors
Coughing while eating can happen for a number of different reasons, one being that the horse hasn’t been able to chew fully his hay or prematurely swallowing it, thereby resorting to cough, an attempt to clear his airway from the obstruction which is mostly known as “Choke”. Now, this may happen occasionally and acutely, but if coughing during eating is an ongoing occurrence for your horse, you may want to take a peek at his teeth to ensure that they are in good condition and address any issues you may notice with your veterinarian.
Physical factors that may contribute to your horses’ cough that may be outside of your control include issues with the epiglottis flap (which directs your horse’s bolus (chewed food) away from the airway, and down to the esophagus) occasionally getting stuck. If this happens, this can result in strange particles entering your horse’s breathing structures, thereby causing them to cough.
If your horse regularly coughs while eating and environmental factors, such as dusty hay or grain that has a lot of granular dust, have been ruled out, it is best to contact your veterinarian to help you detect the cause of the problem.
Other Factors for Horse Coughing
Recognizing when a cough is a result of a bacterial or viral infection is key to not only treating the issue but containing the problem so that it does not spread to the rest of your herd. In addition to monitoring your horse’s temperature, bacterial infections can most easily be identified by a cough that produces a thicker mucus, whereas viral infections might be a bit thinner and may appear watery.
In instances like this, you will want to not only call your veterinarian but isolate your horse from the rest of your herd, to avoid further contamination. Should your horse be experiencing these symptoms following transport, known as Shipping Fever, you are going to want to take action quickly, as this virus is a very contagious and fast-spreading one, that can wipe out a herd within a split second.
Also, you will have to notify any other horse owners. Those whose horses may have come into contact with your own.
Horse Coughing Treatment
Once you’ve identified the problem, reduced any environmental contributing factors. Further, treatment of chronic coughing in your horse is best practiced under the supervision of your veterinarian.
Your vet will employ the use of medical tools to help locate and treat the problem. They will first take your horse’s temperature because of the temperature over 101.5. It is a good indicator that the cause may be bacterial or viral. If no fever is present, then your vet may move on. He will examine other physical or environmental causes for your horse’s cough.
However, that doesn’t mean that there can’t be a mix of other causal factors. A bacterial infection caused by a bad moment of choke due to worn-out teeth, can result in aspiration pneumonia.
Thus, your vet will employ the use of their stethoscope to note respiratory noises or perhaps even an ultrasound if they cannot locate the source of the problem. They may even need to go further and internally examine your four-legged friend with the use of an endoscope. It can help your vet identify structures that are inhibiting breathing or diagnose physical abnormalities.
Once the problem is located and identified, your vet will prescribe the appropriate treatment. This vary from medication therapy to having a conversation about reducing its environmental exposure and diet.
As always, prevention and early detection will save you and your horse a lot of time and stress. Simply knowing that persistent coughing is not a normal. Contacting a veterinarian as soon as the symptoms start showing can help your coughing Horse. It will help against contracting any aggravated form of illment. The thing is, your vet will not be able to spend as much time observing your horse as you will.
So it is very important to know that you need to pay closer attention. Check the conditions in which the cough is occurring. The contributing factors that you as an owner can control are, where you store your hay. Also, the breathability of the air in your barn. This includes on how long the problem has been going on.
- Persistent coughing in horses is abnormal and can indicate a number of problems.
- A temperature of 101.5 degrees or higher can indicate a bacterial or viral infection. That warrants a call to your vet. You should also isolate the infected horse from the remainder of your herd to avoid further contamination.
- Make a note of the consistency and color of any mucus. Record discharge from your horse’s nose or absence of such mucus. This will provide your vet with important information that will be helpful in diagnosing the problem.
- Air quality in your barn can be increased with ventilation. You should avoid storing hay supplies over stalls of horses with allergies. Dust can be reduced by slightly dampening your horse’s hay. Or, avoid feed grain that has broken down into a powder.