8 Facts about emphysema in horses equisense blog

In this article it goes the topic pulmonary emphysema. This disease is often talked about. It is feared by riders. My mare, O la Belle, was also diagnosed with emphysema last year. The first symptom was their cough, which returned every year in winter and then disappeared in summer. Last winter, however, the cough syrup no longer provided any improvement. Our veterinarian has therefore gone in search of the cause of her discomfort and has come to the conclusion that my under mare suffers RAO. A pulmonary emphysema so. Probably you have heard about it. In this article, our veterinarian Marine will explain to you in detail what exactly this condition is all about.

Summer is coming to an end, it's time to dig the jackets out of the locker again, and horses are spending less and less time in the pasture. For some of them, the cold season is unfortunately associated with coughing. The reason for this: emphysema. But what exactly is this disease, the symptoms of which appear only in winter? How to mitigate it? We would like to answer these and a few other questions so that your horse will be as well as possible despite his condition.

#1 – It is a complex disease [1]

This disease has many names that are often used as synonyms, although they are actually different from each other: Pulmonary emphysema is the most common term. RAO (Recruitment Airway Obstruction) is often associated with asthmatic attacks, COPD (Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease) tends to be associated with mucus formation and under COB is understood as chronic obstructive bronchitis. If the husbandry is not adapted in time, the symptoms worsen and emphysema develops or. Steam or also Damping . It is a inflammatory respiratory disease, which leads to obstruction of the lower respiratory tract. The lower respiratory tract includes the lungs and bronchi. The upper respiratory tract includes the nostrils, nasal cavities, pharynx, larynx and trachea.

This condition is characterized by an inflammatory reaction caused by contact with animal or plant-derived organic dust is caused, from. Particularly problematic are Straw and moldy hay . The disease can have numerous causes. Researchers largely agree that it is an allergy, as the pathophysiological mechanisms are similar to those of asthma in humans. The environment of the horse seems to play a decisive role, but although much research has been done, the exact causes are not yet known.

8 facts about emphysema in horses equisense blog

#2 – The environment is the decisive factor

The symptoms are caused by the Dust in the stable triggered, but it is not yet clear which components of the dust are the culprits. It is known, however, that the respiratory tract of horses kept in stalls has a less acidic pH than usual. This is due to the bedding, which absorbs the ammonia contained in the urine. In humans, a change in ph. The contact with ammonia allegedly lead to asthma. Scientists believe that this is also the case in the horse.

#3 – Coughing is the most noticeable symptom, but not the only one

The dust in hay and straw contains lots of mites, bacteria and fungi (the dust in riding stables contains more than 50 different kinds of molds … Yuck!)🤢 [1].

8 facts about emphysema in horses equisense blog

In hypersensitive, i.e. allergic, horses the immune reaction is too strong. If you breathe in the dust, the immune system releases a large number of molecules to fight the supposed "pathogen" (the diameter of these "tubes", which transport the air to the lungs, decreases). This leads to an inflammation of the respiratory tract and thus to an Coughing that occurs both at rest and with exercise can occur. However, other symptoms can be observed:

Constriction of the bronchial tubes (the diameter of these "tubes" that carry the air to the lungs decreases) increased mucus production , Which can lead to obstruction Change in the respiratory system : hypertrophy of bronchial muscles, fibrosis etc.

The air is therefore trapped in the lungs and the horse has problems inhaling and especially exhaling. You can observe that it tries to counteract this: the movement of the thoracic cavity is increased and it comes to the so-called. abdominal breathing . In addition, to facilitate breathing, the nostrils are distended. Because of the prere on the abdomen may additionally occur flatulence. Logically, these respiratory problems can have a negative effect on the physical performance affect the horse.

Depending on the severity of the disease, different symptoms can occur. In the advanced stages of the disease, one often sees the typical Steam gutter . This is due to the increased difficulty of breathing and the resulting increased strain on the oblique abdominal muscles. At the same time the horse often loses weight.

#4 – The pulmonary emphysema occurs mainly in winter

This disease is most prevalent in the northern hemisphere and especially in temperate climates at. As a rule, we keep our horses in winter in the Stable and give them Roughage to feed. Therefore, the symptoms appear anew every winter. In urban or peri-urban areas, horses are exposed to other pollutants that, as with us humans, are also suspected of leading to hypersensitization.

In 2007, a large epidemiological study [2] was conducted to investigate the incidence of damming in the UK. The result was 14. Half of all respiratory problems are dampness [1]. This disease is therefore far from rare, but it seems to occur exclusively in adult horses of at least 7 years of age. Therefore, it is not impossible for a young horse that is healthy to become ill later on.

#5 – Alleviate the symptoms of your sick horse

Although the horse cannot be completely cured of this condition, one can at least stabilize the symptoms . For this purpose, it should be exposed to as little dust as possible. The best solution is to let the horse to keep the horse on pasture all year round , which usually causes the clinical symptoms to disappear completely. If this is not possible, one should try to avoid contact with dust as much as possible. The horse should be in a well ventilated box be housed, which as far as possible from the hayloft Is. It should be known that horses whose stalls are bedded with straw and fed hay are exposed to 35 times more organic dust than horses whose stalls are bedded with shavings and fed pellets [4]. One should therefore Shavings as bedding use (a straw of very good quality contains much less dust and can therefore also be used, but unfortunately it is difficult to find). The bedding must always be clean, as the fumes of the ammonia aggravate the symptoms.

Last but not least, the horse should not be exposed to activities that raise a lot of dust, z. B. Feeding hay or cleaning the stable (a cleaning action with the compressed air cleaner directly under the horse's nose would be z. B. catastrophic). In this case, however, it may help to wet the ground beforehand.

As is so often the case, all this is easier said than done. Some barn owners may be reluctant to do this because they don't want to turn their entire logistics upside down for a single horse.

#6 – The right feed for emphysema

Since the cough is triggered by an allergic reaction, it seems only too logical that the Feed is a risk factor represents. Also, many horses have a habit of digging through the hay with their mouths, which raises additional dust. In poorly processed or improperly stored hay. Straw the number of allergens is particularly high. Therefore, you should only feed your horse feed high quality products .

8 facts about emphysema in horses equisense blog

roughage can also be Alfalfa (in cubes), granulated hay , Silage Or fresh grass be replaced.

If hay feeding is unavoidable, it can also be done soak it in water , to reduce the dust. How long to leave hay in the water is the subject of much debate, the ideal duration is probably somewhere between 20 minutes and 4 hours. The longer, the more effective this method is, but at the same time valuable nutrients are lost and the development of bacteria and mold is increasingly favored. 20-30 minutes seem to be a good compromise, but in the end everyone has to weigh it up for themselves.

There are also devices for Sterilization of hay . Unlike watering in water, this does not favor the proliferation of bacteria and at the same time preserves the nutrients. These devices are very effective, but unfortunately also quite expensive.

Also the provision of the hay is crucial. If it is placed on the ground, less dust gets into the respiratory tract, because the horse keeps its head down while eating. However, if it is filled in a hay net or in a grid, the horse breathes in much more dust, because the horse holds its head higher when eating.

#7 – There is a genetic predisposition

Most horses are exposed to a lot of dust in the barn every day, but only a few among them develop signs of emphysema. This is probably not the modification of a single gene, but of several genes. It is a complex interaction between the genome of the individual and its environment. Therefore, in a horse with emphysema, there is a possibility that his symptoms will decrease depending on the environment, but the whole thing is quite complicated.

#8 – Watch out when buying a horse

When buying a horse, be careful because symptoms of emphysema, when the horse is examined in the summer or outside, are not visible. If the horse is younger than 7 years old, the illness may still be developing. As always with the horse purchase one should be careful thus and a bill of sale lock and the horse of the veterinary surgeon of confidence examine let, in order to secure itself as well as possible.


So the bottom line is that adjusting the husbandry of a sick horse as much as possible to keep the severity of symptoms to a minimum. If the first signs of steaming appear, one should not hesitate to call a veterinarian. He will give tips and suggest a treatment tailored to the horse.

Until the next article Marine Slove, veterinarian and product manager

I have followed Marine's advice and that of my veterinarian and have begun treating my mare with. Also, she moved: Her old stable was in the suburbs and she was in an enclosed stall with hay bedding and 3 hours of paddock per day. Her new home is an open stable in the middle of the countryside, littered with shavings, she spends the whole day outside and only goes into the stable at night. My mare is like changed! O la Belle is in great shape and that although I was already afraid I would have to retire her! So, if your horse is diagnosed with emphysema, there is no need to panic. Listen to your veterinarian and adjust your horse's environment to meet his needs. Your horse will thank you.

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