Horses – Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease in horses
Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPU)
– Broken Wind, Heaves, Chronic Alveolar Emphysema, Equine Asthma
Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease – Obstructive pulmonary disease (OPD) in the horse is an allergic respiratory problem that follows inhalation of allergens, the sensitivity to which can be increased following respiratory viral infections.
It is the most common cause of a persistent afebrile (no temperature) a cough in the horse.
The most common allergens are fungi, Microployspora faeni (which causes farmer’s lung in humans and cattle) and Aspergillus fumigatus.
Pollens can also induce an attack of OPD in susceptible animals and oilseed rape pollen has become a particular problem in recent years.
Symptoms of Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease
At certain times of the year, the horse can take apparently clinically normal, showing no obvious signs of a respiratory problem.
When an attack occurs, the signs resemble those of asthma.
This is because the airways are reduced in size due to spasm of the muscles in their walls, inflammation of the airways with the accumulation of mucus.
These result in an increased depth and rate of respiration, and coughing with much of the mucous being swallowed.
In mild cases, there will be a chronic cough with a watery discharge.
As the disease progresses, the horse finds it more difficult to breathe and a noticeable increase in respiratory rate occurs with an increase in expiratory effort.
At this stage, if the horse is worked it will show signs of respiratory distress.
In severe cases, the cough is more frequent and may produce a thick yellow mucus.
The respiratory rate will exceed 20 breaths per minute, with a marked expiratory effort that leads to the development of the so-called ‘ heave’ line along the sides of the abdomen.
A double expiratory effort will be noticed and often this is associated with a wheezing sound and flared nostrils.
The body temperature is normal, but the horse may lose weight because the respiratory embarrassment results in difficulty in eating.
Mild exercise will lead to breathing lessness.
Treatment of Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease
Most cases require veterinary intervention to help relieve some of the symptoms urgently.
A number of veterinary drugs, such as ventipulmin and sputolosin are used for this.
Attention to management is vital.
These horses need access to plenty of clean fresh air with no dust or pollen.
Remove from the source of allergen, which may be dusty, poor hay or pollen.
Rug them up and keep them out if necessary.
Feed haylage rather than hay.
If you have to feed hay, soak it well and replace it regularly.
Be careful if soaking hay in the summer, because it will soon ferment.
Inhalation of nebulized/aerosol Aloe Vera First can help relieve some of the symptoms.
Add 6-8mls of Aloe Vera First to a nebulizer attached to a nosebag and allow the horse to inhale it over a 10-15 minute period.
Alternatively – if the horse is amenable – carefully and gently Aloe Vera First up the nostrils and allow the horse to inhale it.
Adding Aloe Vera gel to the diet can also help improve signs of COPD over a period of weeks.
Give 250mls initially, reducing to 120mls as the condition improves and finally to a maintenance dose of 60mls per day.
The addition of bee pollen tablets to the diet can also help desensitize the immunological response.
Around 8-20 tablets may be required during an attack, and as a long-term preventative, I use 4 tablets daily.
Aloe Vera heat lotion rubbed around the nostrils can also help to keep the airways open and disperse some of the mucus.
Do not apply it to any sore areas as it will sting.