Nutrition and Heaves: Managing Equine Respiratory Health Through Diet

Three brown horses browsing on the grass

Maintaining the well-being of our equine companions involves a multitude of factors, with nutrition playing a pivotal role in their overall health. Horses, like humans, can suffer from respiratory issues, one of which is heaves. This chronic condition affects the respiratory system and is often exacerbated or alleviated by the horse's diet and feeding practices. In this blog, we'll explore the connection between nutrition and heaves and provide recommendations for feeding horses with respiratory issues.

Understanding Heaves

Before delving into the specifics of nutrition, it's essential to understand what heaves is and how it affects horses. Heaves, also known as recurrent airway obstruction (RAO), is a chronic and progressive respiratory condition primarily affecting mature horses. It is typically triggered by environmental factors such as dust, molds, and allergens, which can lead to inflammation and narrowing of the airways. As a result, horses with heaves often experience coughing, increased respiratory effort, nasal discharge, and exercise intolerance.

The Role of Nutrition

A horse's diet can significantly impact the development and management of heaves. Here are several key nutritional factors to consider:

1. Forage Quality

High-quality forage is the foundation of a horse's diet, and it becomes even more crucial for those with heaves. Clean, dust-free hay is essential to reduce respiratory irritants. Avoid feeding moldy or dusty hay, as this can exacerbate symptoms. Soaking hay before feeding can help reduce dust, but it's crucial to manage soaking times to avoid leaching essential nutrients.

 2. Low-Dust Bedding

The quality of the bedding in a horse's stall is also essential. Straw bedding, although commonly used, can be dusty and should be avoided for horses with heaves. Consider using alternatives like shavings or dust-free pellet bedding to reduce the inhalation of respiratory irritants.

One grey and one brown horse browsing with their heads down

3. Proper Hydration

Ensuring your horse stays adequately hydrated is vital for managing heaves. Dehydration can lead to thicker mucus production and worsen respiratory symptoms. Always provide fresh, clean water, and consider adding salt to the diet to encourage water consumption.

 4. Controlled Grazing

While turnout on fresh pastures can provide exercise and mental stimulation, the quality of the pasture matters. Grazing on lush, green grass may trigger respiratory symptoms in some horses due to allergenic pollen. Consider using a grazing muzzle or restricting access to certain pastures if necessary.

 5. Feeding Routine

Establishing a regular feeding routine can help horses with heaves by reducing stress and preventing overeating. Stress can exacerbate respiratory issues, so minimizing stressors in the horse's environment is crucial.

Recommendations for Feeding Horses with Heaves

When it comes to feeding horses with heaves, the goal is to minimize exposure to respiratory irritants and provide a balanced diet. Here are some recommendations:

Heave Ho: for breathing allergies, COPD, coughing

1. Consult with a Veterinarian

The first step in managing heaves through nutrition is consulting with a veterinarian or an equine nutritionist. They can help create a personalized feeding plan tailored to your horse's needs. At Equine Medical and Surgical Associates, our trusted veterinarian, Dr. Reilly, has over 36 years of experience and is dedicated to helping educate the owner and helping your horse improve. Adding supplements such as Heave Ho to your horse's diet will help fortify your horses immune system by using phytonutrients, immune modulators, and adaptogens to help deal with the stress of breathing issues and anti-inflammatories. The ingredients in our Heave Ho supplement are natural herbs, high-dose vitamin E, and balanced minerals. Learn more about Heavo Ho and our other products on our website. 

 2. High-Quality Forage

Ensure that the hay you feed is of the highest quality, with low dust and mold content. If necessary, consider switching to hay alternatives like hay cubes or haylage, which are often less dusty.

 3. Soaked Hay

Soaking hay for 20-30 minutes before feeding can help reduce dust and mold spore content. However, be mindful of the time, as over-soaking can leach out nutrients.

Front shot of one black and one brown horse on the grass

 4. Grain and Concentrates

Minimize the use of grain and concentrates, as they can contribute to respiratory issues in horses with heaves. Opt for alternative sources of calories, such as high-fiber, low-starch feeds.

 5. Weight Management

Maintaining a healthy weight is crucial for horses with heaves. Overweight horses are more prone to respiratory issues. Work with your veterinarian to establish a weight management plan.

 6. Outdoor Living

Whenever possible, provide horses with heaves outdoor living arrangements. Fresh air and reduced exposure to stable allergens can significantly improve respiratory health.

7. Respiratory Health Products

Consider using respiratory health products designed for horses with heaves, such as respiratory supplements and natural remedies. Always consult with your veterinarian before adding any new product to your horse's diet.

 8. Regular Exercise

Regular, moderate exercise can help improve respiratory function. However, avoid intense workouts that might exacerbate symptoms. Consult with your veterinarian to create an appropriate exercise plan.

 9. Monitor and Adjust

Keep a close eye on your horse's condition and be prepared to adjust the feeding plan as needed. Respiratory issues can change over time, and your horse's diet may require periodic modifications.

Heaves can be a challenging condition to manage, but proper nutrition and feeding practices play a vital role in helping horses with respiratory issues lead healthy and comfortable lives. By providing high-quality forage, minimizing exposure to irritants, and working closely with your veterinarian, you can create a feeding plan that supports your horse's respiratory health and overall well-being. Remember that each horse is unique, so what works best for one may not be ideal for another, making individualized care and attention essential for managing heaves effectively!  To learn more about Equine Medical and Surgical Associates, click here or contact us.