Problems with the respiratory tract account for more than one third of internal diseases in horses. Are the most common cause of permanent unfitness for riding. Housing conditions have the greatest influence on respiratory health.
Horses can breathe deeply best in the fresh air – also and especially in winter. © Bernd Kroger – fotolia.com
There are things that go together like pitch and sulfur. Winter and coughing are part of it. While most horses enjoy generous paddock or pasture access and plenty of exercise while riding during the summer months, things often look rather dreary over the winter months. As soon as the temperatures drop, many horses say: paddock ade – and welcome to the cozy stable. Because people generally like to be warm and cozy, windows and doors are often locked as early as fall, creating an often drastic difference from outside temperatures. If the stable is also poorly insulated or if too many animals are housed in too small an area, the humidity will quickly rise significantly. Condensation is the result. In such humid conditions, germs have an easy time of it, especially if the hygiene in the barn leaves much to be desired.
Poison for the horse's lungs: dust and mold
If stalls are poorly or insufficiently mucked out and if feed and bedding are also contaminated by dust and fungal spores, this, together with the often damp stable air, creates a highly dangerous toxic cocktail for the sensitive horse lungs, which are susceptible to chemical irritants (z. B. the ammonia contained in urine) and particulate matter is particularly susceptible. Fungal spores, mite droppings, pollen, skin and hair particles, husk crumbs from grain, etc. Size easily into the lungs. Can cause great damage there. Especially mold spores from hay, straw and concentrates are the main cause of the dreaded hay dust allergy, which can trigger severe respiratory problems in horses and often cause serious impairments throughout a horse's life.
Dust-free shavings or straw products can significantly reduce the amount of dust in the horse barn. © Ameco
Feeding high-quality hay that is low in dust and largely free of fungal spores is another important point. If the hay is also soaked in plenty of water before being given, the dust load can be reduced to one-third. “At the same time, simply sprinkling with the watering can is not enough. The hay must be completely soaked in sufficient water, then allowed to drip off, and then it can be given to the horses with a clear conscience,” describes Dr. Christina Schmidt of the University of Veterinary Medicine in Vienna the correct process for moistening hay. This is laborious and is therefore rarely done consistently, which is why hay substitutes in the form of meadow cobs or products made from dedusted hay are becoming increasingly important. If the horse is kept in the paddock all year round without feeding hay, even a dust reduction of up to sixteen times is possible.
Spreading bedding and roughage should only be done when the horses are not in the stable. According to studies, this can produce dust concentrations of ten to 150 micrograms per cubic meter, of which 20 to 60 percent contain particle sizes that reach deep into the respiratory tract. For comparison: to protect human health, fine dust levels in the workplace must not exceed 50 micrograms per cubic meter. With the stall settlement should be waited so long, until the dust, which develops inevitably with the daily Ausmistvorgang, has settled noticeably. If you moisten the stable aisle again before sweeping (z. B. with a watering can), can minimize renewed dusting up.
Even the popular oats, probably the most commonly used concentrated feed because of its good digestibility, can also contaminate the air and thus have a negative effect on the respiratory tract due to its often high germ load. Toxic fungi and mites attack oats more easily than, for example, barley or corn. Therefore, especially with oats, very close attention should be paid to their perfect quality. The concentrated feed should be moistened if necessary.
Gases, dust, mold spores and bacteria do not stop at a stall door. For this reason, it makes little sense to use low-dust and low-fungus bedding for a few horses while the neighboring horses are on straw. Effective dust control therefore only works if it is carried out throughout the stable.
Light, fresh air and sufficient exercise
have an excellent thermoregulation, especially if their organism is given the opportunity to adapt to the external conditions through a lot of outdoor exercise. Extensive daily exercise in the paddock and regular training under saddle or in hand not only ensures that the respiratory system is protected, but also strengthens the immune system and performance. Regular sunlight also has a strong influence on the entire metabolism of the horse, positively influencing its resistance, performance and fertility. Therefore, horses should be able to take in as much natural light as possible, even in winter. Stables are provided with sufficient light if the window area is at least one fifteenth to one twentieth of the stable area. On average, a horse needs about 5.000 cubic meters of fresh air per day, which corresponds to an amount of fresh air that fits into an indoor riding arena measuring 20 by 40 by 6 meters. Thus, in a barn that houses 20 horses, there is a fresh air requirement of about 20 indoor arenas!
Regular exercise in the fresh air, especially in winter, and a stable in which the horses are not isolated from climatic stimuli, is another aspect that speaks for itself: In horses that are kept predominantly warm and with little exercise, blood circulation often does not function optimally. If it is disturbed, the cells contract in a shock-like manner due to the unaccustomed cold, whereby the body's own killer cells can hardly make any headway in destroying invading viruses. The balance of cell messengers gets out of whack -. Pathogens find perfect conditions for undisturbed multiplication. In addition, sufficient climatic stimuli and the associated hardening promote the release of so-called inflammatory mediators, endogenous substances that initiate or maintain an inflammatory reaction of the organism and thus make an important contribution to maintaining health.
For stabling, this means above all: open the windows and, if necessary, put a blanket on if the horse does not develop enough warming winter fur on its own or if it has been shorn due to its sporting use. Good air exchange must not be confused with draught, which, unlike normal air circulation, is only a small-scale cold stimulus. Under these conditions, the horse's thermoregulation is disturbed, especially if it is sweaty or the body's own air conditioning system is poorly trained.
If you think that all you have to do to prevent coughing is to put your horse in the paddock in all weathers, you are wrong, because that alone is not enough. Horses usually cope well with sub-zero temperatures and dry cold, but get problems if they are exposed to cold, wet and wind unprotected for a long time. This also applies to horses that are used to outdoor climate stimuli. If, for example, no protective paddock shelter is available in such conditions, or if the horse is not protected by a waterproof rain rug, the horse will quickly cool down all over its body. If this condition persists for several hours, the immune system is weakened and the horse becomes particularly susceptible to infections. Horses react in such situations with trembling. Although this cold muscle tremor is not initially a symptom of illness, but rather a reaction of the body to warm itself up, it should nevertheless be prevented as a matter of principle. Thus, it is especially important for horses of the southern type (Thoroughbred and Warmblood types) and old or weakened horses to provide adequate protection (either by a shelter or by a waterproof outdoor blanket).
Poorly designed open stables also pose a similar problem, if the horses only have a drafty pasture hut available as a retreat from bad weather, with no bedding or only poor-quality bedding. Open stabling with the constant possibility to move freely in fresh air is per se not the panacea for respiratory diseases. Here, too, as with all other types of housing, care must be taken to ensure that all the horse's needs are met. For example, a horse must be able to rest on high-quality, abundant bedding and seek a draft-free, weather-protected retreat at all times to remain healthy.
Efficiently prevent cough
Year after year, a large number of horses fall ill with coughs during the cold season, often accompanied by considerable loss of performance and reduced use. Targeted prophylaxis and early treatment can significantly reduce serious damage. An intact immune system is the most effective weapon in the fight against horse cough. If you make sure that your horse gets plenty of exercise in fresh air, high-quality and therefore low-dust feed, sufficient clean bedding and is adequately vaccinated, you have a good chance of getting your horse through the winter without troublesome coughing diseases.
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