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A step-by-step approach to managing equine asthma

Asthma is a chronic condition, which means there is no cure. However, there are ways to manage your horse’s condition to help control and minimize their symptoms.

The primary goal of treatment is to decrease the inflammation deep within the lungs to make breathing easier.

Step 1: Reduce the dust in the environment

Horses with asthma will need lifelong environmental and dietary management geared to reducing the horse’s exposure to dust and mold as well as improved ventilation.

Environmental modifications:

  • Clean the stalls and barn common areas at least once per month while horses are turned out.

    Tip: When you’re done cleaning, wait at least an hour before bringing the horses back in. This allows any chemical products to dry and any dust particles to settle before the horses enter their stalls.
  • Avoid clutter, which can collect dust without your realizing it.
  • Use low-dust bedding options, such as shavings, peat, shredded paper or cardboard. Avoid straw, which can be very dusty.

    Tip: Horses don’t actually need bedding. If the stall has rubber matting and there is a comfortable place for your horse to lie down outside, consider avoiding bedding altogether.

Feed modifications:

  • Avoid using a hay net. Hay nets encourage horses to bury their noses in the hay, which increases the likelihood that they will breathe in dust particles.
  • If you feed hay, consider soaking or steaming it before giving it to your horse.

    Tip: Do not soak hay for longer than 30 minutes as this can promote bacterial growth.
  • Consider switching to pelleted feed or, season permitting, turning them out on a grass pasture.

Ventilation

  • Air circulation is important. Keep the stable doors and windows open as much as possible.

    Tip: Keep a thermometer near the stable. Horses are comfortable at indoor temperatures down to around 10°C, so you can probably keep the windows and doors open for longer than you think.
  • Store hay and straw well away from any horses with asthma.
  • As much as possible, keep horses with asthma turned out.

Download the dust-reduction tip sheet to help keep your horse’s asthma symptoms under control.

Download

What about horses with summer pasture-associated severe equine asthma (SPAOPD or SPARAO)?

If your horse suffers from summer pasture-associated asthma, their condition will likely worsen on pasture. That’s because horses diagnosed with this type of asthma are allergic to the mold spores and pollen (primarily from grasses) that are present outdoors.

Symptoms tend to worsen as temperatures and humidity increase.

To help control symptoms, keep an eye on the pollen tracker for your area, and keep your horse indoors (with the doors and windows closed, if possible) when allergens are high.

Remember to follow the dust reduction tips for these horses as well.

Step 2: Reduce inflammation with corticosteroid therapy

Corticosteroids are a common class of medication used to decrease inflammation in the airways of asthmatic patients (humans and horses). When the inflammation is reduced, it’s easier to breathe, which reduces asthma symptoms.

Inhaled corticosteroids have the benefit of delivering the drug directly into the airways. This has the potential to decrease the risk of side effects compared to oral or injectable treatments.

To optimize the success of corticosteroids, it is important to make environmental changes as well. These adjustments to the horse’s housing, feed, and ventilation should continue even after the course of corticosteroid treatment has finished.

INHALED CORTICOSTEROIDS ARE THE GOLD STANDARD FOR THE TREATMENT OF EQUINE ASTHMA.

Things to consider when choosing an inhaled treatment:

  • Is the inhaler proven to easily deliver a high amount of medication deep into the lungs?

  • Does the treatment have proven efficacy?

  • Is the inhaler designed specifically for horses?

Step 3: Fast relief with a bronchodilator

Bronchodilators are medications that help to relax and open the airways for easier airflow. They can provide rapid relief of symptoms for some horses but may not be required in all cases of equine asthma.

Bronchodilators are a “rescue” medication and do not help control inflammation long term. For that reason, they should be used in conjunction with corticosteroids and environmental changes.

ALWAYS DISCUSS TREATMENT WITH YOUR VETERINARIAN TO CREATE A PLAN THAT WILL HELP CONTROL YOUR HORSE’S ASTHMA SYMPTOMS.

Learn more about an innovative new treatment option for equine asthma.

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