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COPD - Causes, Symptoms and Treatment
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COPD - Causes, Symptoms and Treatment

Winter sees many horses stabled for longer periods than they would be during the summer months and this can lead to problems if your horse suffers from COPD.

What is COPD?

COPD is also known as allergic respiratory disease; Recurrent Airway Obstruction (RAO) or in very severe cases, ‘heaves’.

The allergic reaction occurs when horses that are sensitive to certain allergens inhale something that triggers an allergy. The airways become inflamed and constricted; and the amount of mucus and inflammatory material produced by the horse increases.


The horse may appear more lethargic than usual especially during exercise. He will probably develop a cough when he’s ridden and may have a thick, yellow nasal discharge from one or both nostrils. He may also begin to make a noticeable breathing ‘noise’ during exercise. It’s unlikely he will have a temperature and his appetite will remain unaffected.

It is very important that the disease is managed correctly as soon as it is recognised as it will become chronic quite quickly.


Respiratory allergies cannot be cured but they can be managed and controlled if they are recognised early enough. The most common cause of COPD is dust and spores from straw and hay. Sometimes, dirty bedding can result in fungal spores being produced and this can also sometimes cause an allergic reaction in susceptible horses.

The allergy can also be triggered when certain plants or trees are flowering and producing pollen which is carried on the wind and thus inhaled by the horse. In order to tackle the problem you must first identify the cause.

If your horse begins to show signs of COPD when he is stabled after being turned out all summer, it is likely that the cause is his bedding or forage. Bed him down on dust-extracted shavings rather than straw. Rubber matting with just a sprinkling of dry shavings works very well although this can appear rather ‘cold’ compared to a lovely thick straw bed. A good alternative is shredded paper bedding, although this can be heavy and smelly to muck out and is not really suitable for use as a deep litter bed.

If your horse is on hay, swop this for dust-extracted haylage or dried, vacuum-packed grass. If you can’t get anything other than hay for forage, try soaking it for an hour or so to remove any dust and loose seeds then drain well before feeding.

Alternatively, try placing the haynet in a plastic bin, pouring a kettle of boiling water onto it then putting on the lid and allowing it to steam for half an hour. Feed forage from the floor rather than in a haynet or hay bin. This prevents the horse from inhaling seeds and dust as he’s eating.

Your vet may recommend treating the horse with corticosteroids, mucolytics or bronchodilators to help open up the airways and help the horse with his breathing.

If you stable your horse in a barn with other horses that are bedded on straw and eating dry hay, your horse will still be exposed to the dust and spores which trigger is allergy. If possible, keep him separate from others unless they are being kept in a similar environment or better still, arrange for him to live out if possible. Most horses are happy living out as long as they have a field shelter for really bad weather and a good, waterproof rug particularly if they are thin skinned and likely to feel the cold.

Some horses only display allergic symptoms when turned out during the summer months. This can make it difficult to isolate the allergen as so many plants are flowering and you may find that you have to keep your horse stabled at certain times of the year until the culprit has ceased shedding pollen into the air. Occasionally, a particular plant in your turn out area could be to blame in which case you may have to move your horse to a different field until that plant has finished flowering.

COPD can become chronic and very debilitating if left untreated for too long. If you are at all concerned about your horse, always consult your vet.

Disclaimer: Of Horse! and sponsors do not endorse nor validate the accuracy of a blog post. Each article is the opinion of the blogger.

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  1. PonyGirl
    Hi, Autumnap. I enjoyed your post, as usual. I've had two horses with allergies. Daddy Rabbit always developed a slight cough in New Orleans. The vets and I finally figured out that he had a problem when the mold count was high. Dusty got dermatitis and would rub himself raw in certain spots during the month of September (something obviously was blooming at the time). I treated both successfully with antihistamines. The vets sell one just for horses, but I found benadryl capsules worked best for my two. I thought your blog was full of good advice. The only thing I would tend to disagree with is the use of rubber mats for bedding. I would only use rubber mats in a severe case. Although there is a good chance it would help with the allergies, it's been my experience that horses will skin their hocks up while getting up or down if they don't have a deep enough bed of shavings or straw. The mats seem to be worse than a dirt floor in this respect. Once the horse starts scraping his hocks, the condition usually gets worse until bedding is added. If left untreated this could be worse than the allergies themselves. I've also noted over the years, that when horses are turned out, they invariably pick out loose dirt,, sand or other soft spot to sleep in. I think they find it uncomfortable sleeping on a hard, flat surface because it probably creates pressure points. I've seen a couple of race horses with allergy problems bedded on sand. They did quite well with this, but if you use this method you have to worry about sand colic. So before bedding solely on a mat, I would have to weigh the pros and cons very carefully in a particular horse's case before going that route. I voted and look forward to your next blog. Now that our race meet is over for a few months, I'm back to writing a few blogs myself. The latest one's about jigging. Check it out if you have time. I would appreciate any feedback you can give me.
    1. autumnap
      Hi Ponygirl, many thanks for this. I agree about the mats. I've stabled my horses on yards where they've had them installed routinely to save on bedding costs and I prefer to use deep litter. It's a pain to maintain but there's no risk of injury. Sand is a good idea, especially if you live in an area with sandy soil like we have around here. If you scrape away the thin layer of topsoil, you find pure sand beneath. Folk have used it to build gallops and arenas! Hope you had a good season - enjoy the break and keep blogging! I'll have a look at your latest. xx
  2. Chestnut Mare
    Chestnut Mare
    Voted. Excellent advice for all horse owners. You might be inteterested in my latest blog here, The Year of the Horse. Please check it out if you get a chance! :-)
    1. autumnap
      Hi CM, yes of course. Chinese Year of the Horse - that's a great idea for a blog; wish I'd thought of that!
  3. vivicacornelly
    I am 54 years old and I was told I had COPD 7 years ago. I immediately quit smoking, but as the years pass by my condition got significantly worse, and I started having serious attacks. I used to be able to exercise, but it became so hard because I`m constantly out of breath. My pulmonologist started me on oral steroids to help control symptoms and minimize further damage but my symptoms never stopped getting worse. In January this year, my pulmonologist and I decided to go with natural treatment and was introduced to NewLife Herbal Clinic natural organic COPD Herbal formula, i had a total decline of symptoms with this COPD Herbal formula treatment. The infections, shortness of breath, fatigue, dry cough and other symptoms has subsided. Visit NewLife Herbal Clinic official website ww w. newlifeherbalclinic. com or email info@ newlifeherbalclinic. com. I have had great improvement with my over all respiration with this product and i breath very much easier, i can never be thankful enough to nature
  4. julianellis901
    My COPD got significantly worse and unbearable because of my difficulty catching breath. Last year, i started on a natural COPD Herbal therapy from NewLife Herbal Clinic, i read a lot of positive reviews from patients who used the treatment and i immediately started on it. I had great relief with this herbal treatment. I breath very much better now, no case of shortness of breath or chest tightness since treatment, my lungs condition is totally reversed. Visit NewLife Herbal Clinic website ww w. newlifeherbalclinic. com. This treatment is a miracle!!
  5. kanejkk
    I was smoking since the age of 16. Last year I went for lung functioning tests! I am now 66. I was experiencing bad cough, large amounts of mucus, very little energy, and continued smoking. I visited my doctor and a chest x-ray was carried out, guess what, i was diagnosed of COPD. I took Spiriva 30/C/Dev 18 mcg every day for three months no changes,after using COPD herbal formula i purchased from BEST HEALTH HERBAL CENTRE for 5 weeks,my airflow was perfect,no more cough and chest tightness was over .All thanks to God for leading to BEST HEALTH HERBAL CENTRE. please visit their website for more information.. ww w. besthealthherbalcentre. com
  6. kortneltinga
    I have had emphysema for about five years. I was on oxygen during the day but not at night. I could go about two hours without the oxygen, and then I need it. I had a converter in the house and oxygen tanks for when I go shopping, etc. I am 64 years old and in relatively good health. The doctor said it was caused by a combination of smoking, dust here in Vegas, and 30 years of smog in California. I believed I will always need the oxygen to breathe. I quit smoking 15 years ago. But the damage has been done. January 2017 my pulmonologist and I decided to go with natural treatment and was introduced to Green House Herbal Clinic natural organic Emphysema Herbal formula, i had a total decline of symptoms with this Emphysema Herbal formula treatment. Visit Green House Herbal Clinic official web-site ww w. greenhouseherbalclinic. com. The infections, shortness of breath, fatigue, dry cough and other symptoms has subsided.  I am very pleased with this treatment. I breath very well now and exercise regularly, sometimes i totally forget i ever had Emphysema, I am thankful to nature, the medics failed. Share with friends!!
  7. pamelawayans
    I have had ASTHMA my whole life but about 7 years ago my asthma got so bad and was diagnosed of EMPHYSEMA/COPD which was most likely due to the asthma. I was on double antibiotics and steroids, still didn't feel any better. My lungs were constantly wheezing in all four chambers, i already used Advair, Spiriva, and Albuterol in my nebulizer, they just didn’t do much. It was hell for me due to the severe difficulty breathing. April 2016 my sister in-law told us about Rich Herbs Foundation where she ordered herbs that effectively treated her arthritis. We ordered their COPD HERBAL TREATMENT after reading alot of positive reviews from other patients, i am happy to report the COPD HERBAL TREATMENT worked very effective for my lungs condition. My quality of life has greatly improved and every one of my symptoms including difficulty breathing, respiratory infections, chronic cough and wheezing has simply stopped. Visit ww w. richherbsfoundation. c om. I will be 52 soon and have never been healthier

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