Horses suffer from a variety of infectious and inflammatory respiratory disorders. Infectious causes, like bacterial pneumonia, can be life-threatening if not quickly diagnosed and treated appropriately. Inflammatory conditions such as Equine Asthma, Recurrent Airway Obstruction ("Heaves") and Inflammatory Airway Disease are performance-limiting disorders that require appropriate treatment or management to allow the horse to return to function. In addition to these common disorders, there are many more conditions of both the upper and lower airway that produce coughing, exercise intolerance, heavy breathing, nasal discharge and other clinical signs. Through combinations of historical information, environmental analysis, clinical signs, physical exam findings, and laboratory testing, we can help determine the source of a respiratory problem and recommend appropriate treatment.
Diagnosis of Respiratory Disease
Diagnosis of a problem with the respiratory system usually involves a combination of examination techniques and laboratory tests. A physical exam and a re-breathing exam are usually the first steps. Since we can't ask a horse to "breathe deep," we use a heavy bag to induce controlled hyperventilation that allows us to hear subtle problems with a stethoscope. Horses actually tolerate this very well! After these exams, we typically move on to more involved diagnostics like endoscopy, lung ultrasound, bloodwork and airway sampling (broncho-alveolar lavage and trans-tracheal wash procedures).
Treatment of Respiratory Disease
Antihistamines are almost always ineffective in horses, since the cells that produce the problem don't actually produce histamine! This is why most horses with respiratory disease have been failed by supplements and home remedies. When a horse has pneumonia, very strong antibiotics are necessary. When a horse has Equine Asthma (RAO/Heaves or inflammatory airway disease), steroids may be necessary. Some respiratory conditions can be treated with asthma inhalers or nebulizers. It is especially important to have a correct diagnosis for respiratory conditions, since a "cure" for one disease could cause catastrophic side-effects in a different disease.