Treating Equine COPD in Winter

Equine Heaves/COPD is a condition that affects 25 to 80% of stabled horses in the United States. Typical onset occurs when a horse is between 8 and 10 years old. There are many names for this airway problem. They include Equine Recurrent Airway Obstruction (RAO), Equine Small Airway Inflammatory Disease (SAID), Equine Asthma, Equine Allergic Airway, and Broken Wind.  

Early Signs of Trouble

Signs of heaves or COPD may be easily missed at onset. In the early stages, your horse may have no energy at the end of a ride, or be coughing more. You may notice a mild nasal discharge. It will be a watery, thin mucus, not yellow or green. They will be breathing at about twice the normal rate of 24-30 times a minute and may have reactions to vaccines due to a hypersensitive immune system.  

Chronic COPD

As the disease progresses and becomes more chronic, you will notice a lowered ability to exercise. More coughing and puffing while at rest. Many horses will experience weight loss. This is because their labored breathing overcomes their need for food or water and because of this labored breathing, they are burning more calories. You will notice a grunt or exaggerated exhale and their condition worsening when exposed to allergens or when inside.

Stall Management

In the winter, many horses spend extended periods of time in the barn. If you have a horse that suffers from breathing issues, it is best to practice good stall management in an effort to reduce your horse’s exposure to airborne allergens that will aggravate their COPD. Some suggestions to help keep airborne irritants at a minimum include soaking hay for 10 minutes prior to feeding in a Rubbermaid container. This will cut down hay dust dramatically. You can also use fluffy pine shavings as bedding. Do not use sawdust, wood pellets or straw as they will release a lot of dust into the air. Another bedding option is to use shredded cardboard.

Best Barn Practices

There are other tips and tricks to help a horse that has trouble breathing. Ammonia from urine is an airway irritant. This leads to more mucus which means more trouble breathing for an already agitated horse. Partial stall mucking creates the least amount of ammonia over a complete mucking or no mucking at all. The more you churn the stall up the more ammonia that you release into the air. So light picking out of manure and wet spots is best.

Be sure to clean the stall when your horse is out of the barn. Increased ventilation in the barn will help to reduce particle exposure. If possible, have an attic fan in the barn to circulate the air. Try to turn out more. Place the horse in an end stall if possible. A stall with a window is a good choice but if one is not available, a stall with a fan for fresh air will suffice. 


There are many treatments for Equine COPD. They include oral bronchodilators, oral antihistamines, antibiotics, oral steroids, omegas for horses and thyroid powder. All of these are good options, however, some of them have a downside too. Some of the medications used to treat equine COPD result in down-regulation of or a tolerance to the medication. There are also treatment methods that are not recommended for insulin resistant or past laminitis cases. And some become extremely costly over time.


Depending on the signs and severity of the disease, many horses with this condition can be successfully managed for most, if not all of their lives. These horses can return to being pleasure, trail riding or even competition horses with dedicated, life-long care. Combining management with Heave Ho oral therapy can help you to continue to enjoy your horse in many activities.

The ingredients in Heave Ho supplement are natural herbs, high dose vitamin E and balanced minerals. These herbs help in fortifying your horse’s immune system using phytonutrients,  immune modulators, adaptogens to help deal with the stresses of breathing issues and anti-inflammatories. Heave Ho comes in two great flavors: molasses and sugar-free apple for insulin resistant/Cushings horses. One scoop in the morning and again in the evening for the first 7 days, then one scoop in the morning after that.  Most horses respond rapidly (in 10-14 days) with improved respiratory rates, less cough, and calmer attitudes from being able to breath better.

(Note: Due to Lemon Balm and Green Tea, a low-level caffeine, you will need to withdraw Heave Ho 1 day prior to competition.)