Respiratory Issues in Equines

Horse running in a field

It is important to be aware of and understand the numerous respiratory diseases that are common amongst equines. The respiratory system is a vital component of your horse’s overall health and well being. To ensure the utmost health of your animal, let us provide essential information about the horse's respiratory system, common respiratory diseases, as well as prevention and treatment methods! 

The Respiratory System

Lets learn about the horse’s respiratory system! Similar to that of humans, oxygen enters the body through the horse's nasal passages in the upper respiratory system. Oxygen then moves from the lower respiratory system to the air sacs of the lungs, alveoli. Oxygen transfers from the alveoli and into the body for diffusion into the bloodstream. Oxygen transfer from the airways into the red blood cells is essential to provide maximum performance during exercise. 

During exercise, horses breathe only through their nose. While a horse engages in strenuous exercise, it is more difficult to move air through the lungs. The harder a horse is working, the more air is needed to move in and out of the lungs. The amount of air moving in and out of the lungs increases in direct proportion to how fast the horse is running during exercise. Resistance to air movement occurs in the upper respiratory system including the nostrils, nasal passages, larynx and trachea. Due to the fact that the horse breathes in only through the nose, this resistance is impactful on the horse’s overall respiratory system.

It is important to maintain a healthy respiratory system to provide maximum energy while exhaling carbon dioxide waste products. The lungs act as a filter to remove any particles, bacteria, fungi, or viruses. The respiratory system also acts as a natural regulator for the horse’s body temperature. 

Common Respiratory Disease

Some of the main respiratory diseases to look out for in your horse are Equine Herpesvirus, Equine Influenza, and Equine Viral Arteritis. 

Equine Herpesvirus

Being one of the most common equine respiratory viruses, Equine Herpesvirus can appear in many different forms. EHV-1 and EHV-4 are the most common strains of Equine Herpesvirus. Horses of any age can develop the disease. Symptoms include cough, drainage of the eyes and nose, fever, and suppressed appetite. It is important to catch early onset of the disease because it is highly contagious from horse to horse. The disease can easily spread through coughing and contact with equipment and the surrounding area. EHV can also survive for 7 to 30 days on environmental surfaces. In uncomplicated cases, horses can typically recover from an outbreak in 7 to 14 days. Horses may become carriers of the virus and experience outbreaks during stressful events. If you think that your horse is experiencing EHV, consult with a veterinarian. 

Equine Influenza Virus

Equine Influenza is a virus that commonly occurs during spring and fall seasons. The influenza has an incubation period of about three days, allowing the virus to spread rapidly to susceptible horses. Coughing can disperse the virus into the air, which is then transmitted to any equine who inhales the virus. The influenza virus damages the lining of the respiratory tract, which can then take three weeks to fully recover itself. Symptoms include high fever, cough, nasal discharge, enlarged lymph nodes, and muscle soreness. Make sure to consult a veterinarian about influenza vaccinations for your equine.

Equine Viral Arteritis

Equine Viral Arteritis (EVA) is a rarer form of respiratory disease, but still very important to be aware of. EVA has a prolonged incubation period of 3 to 14 days. The disease is acquired by inhalation or exposure to the virus. Symptoms of EVA include discharge of the eyes, depression, loss of appetite, red and inflamed nasal passages, and swelling of the limbs and abdomen. EVA is typically non-life threatening in adult horses, however, it can be a serious concern for pregnant horses and could lead to abortion. 

Causes of Respiratory Diseases

Sources of respiratory disease can be infectious, an allergen, an irritant, or something else. Infectious respiratory diseases are caused by viruses, bacteria, mycoplasma, and protozoa. Allergens include pollen, forage mites, and bacterial toxins. Irritants consist of ammonia, dust, and dold air. Other causes include upper airway obstruction, lung bleeding during exercise, reaction to medications, air bubbles in the lungs, and inhaled foreign substances. 


Respiratory Symptoms to be Aware of

Take notice if your equine is experiencing any of the following symptoms: cough, nasal discharge, increased temperature, increased respiratory rate at rest, abnormal breathing during exercise, slow recovery from exercise, frequent swallowing, blood at the nostrils. Be aware of these common symptoms of respiratory illnesses and take action as soon as possible.

Equine Med Surg Heave Ho

How to Help your Horse’s Breathing

To take action against respiratory diseases, consult with your veterinarian about what approach may be best. Many veterinarians will prescribe antibiotics to treat bacterial infections, or bronchodilators and anti-inflammatories. To take preventative action against respiratory diseases, it is important to receive vaccinations, manage exposure risks, be aware of early symptoms, and prevent any further spread of disease. 

If your horse is experiencing difficulty breathing or has asthma, our nutritional supplement product Heave-Ho can be used to open airways, clear mucus, stop coughing, and fortify the immune system. Check out our supplemental equine health products online: