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Pneumonia Risks Haunt Adult Horses
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Pneumonia Risks Haunt Adult Horses

Horse lovers, breeders and trainers should know this; adult horses contract pneumonia, too. Custodians and lovers of animals should also know that the problem is serious. But, like pneumonia in humans, this equine illness can be treated and even prevented.

Nancy Loving

Nancy Loving’s interest in caring for horses goes a mile further than other horse lovers. She has written several books on veterinary care and has a peculiar interest in care management of sporting horses. She owns Loving Equine Clinic, a horse haven in Boulder, Colorado.

How Adult Horses Contract Pneumonia

Pneumonia, or inflammation of the lungs, more commonly affects foals. But adult horses remain at risk, too. While familiar pathogens such as Rhodococcus equi and Streptococcus zooepidemicus affect the youngsters, there are other viruses out there that can affect the adults.

As Love already knows, the horses most at risk here are those involved primarily with the different sporting codes and as a result, are required to travel regularly. Also at risk are geriatric horses.

Harold McKenzie

The horse’s respiratory tract is continuously under threat from bacteria, viruses and fungi. They enter breathing passages mainly through inhalation of debris, dust and fungal spores.

Harold McKenzie is associate professor of large animal medicine at the Virginia-Maryland Regional College of Veterinary Medicine. He explains that it is quite common for bacteria to enter the trachea from the upper respiratory tract through aspiration.

Parasites and the High Risk Horse

McKenzie believes that vets need to be vigilant because currently most viruses and rarer parasites such as lungworm often go undetected. There are vaccines available which decrease the risks of contraction. McKenzie also mentions that the two-year old race horse is the most vulnerable breed exposed to these parasitic infections.

Transport Stress

Trainers and horse handlers often ignore the fact that their racing horses endure a considerable amount of stress during transportation from one venue to another on a regular basis. Such a regular amount of motorized travel for physically active horses is, in any event, not natural. McKenzie also mentions the gruesome incidence of horses having their heads tied in an unnaturally elevated position during long trips.


Another risk incident for vulnerable horses is choking. It is prevalent among older horses with poor dentition. The best and most basic remedy here is to call for veterinary help as soon as the horse begins to choke, even when it appears that the horse is only coughing.


Harold McKenzie’s favored treatment strategy against pneumonia is a combination of systemic treatment with aerosolized antibiotics. In most bronchial cases, however, veterinarians are required to use antimicrobials. It will be at least a week before any virus begins to leave the horse after treatment is first issued.

Most horse owners, breeders and trainers are inclined to put their horses back to work or training, knowing full well that rest is still essential. Up to one month’s rest is required for a horse to fully recover from a bout of pneumonia.

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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