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When is a cough just a cough?When is a cough just a cough?

All horses will cough from time to time and most of the time they are not ill. Coughing is one of the components to defend the respiratory tract and is primarily a clearance mechanism. Coughing is initiated when sensory fibers in the respiratory tract’s mucosa are stimulated by inhaled irritants, inflammation, and/or increased respiratory secretions. A cough could be as simple as inhaling some dust in an arena or mold in the hay to severe as a case of pneumonia, congestive heart failure, or COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease).

If a horse has a chronic cough, is acting ill, or has poor performance, an exam and diagnostic tests (blood work, endoscopy, +/- airway cytology) should be performed. The majority of “show” horses with a chronic cough will be diagnosed with COPD, also known as heaves, allergic airway disease, and hay sickness. Inhaled allergens (pollen, mold) triggering an over active immune response is believed to be most common cause of COPD, complicated by inhaled irritants such as dust and chemicals. Over 70% of the horse’s immune system surrounds the GI tract, all horses with COPD and/or allergies should have a gut conditioning program as part of their treatment strategy and have their diet modified as needed. Other treatment considerations include:

  • Environmental management to decrease exposure to allergens and irritants

  • Steroids to suppress the immune system to decrease the “allergic” reaction

  • Anti-histamines to suppress the body’s response to the allergy

  • Bronchodilators, such as clenbuterol, to open up the airways

  • GI tract support-probiotics, digestive enzymes, and proper diet

  • Detoxification program, especially supporting the liver

  • Herbals and nutriceuticals aimed at decreasing inflammation and supporting airway health

  • homotoxicology to balance immune system, detoxify the body, and help repair mucosa in lungs and GI tract

  • Allergy testing and hyposensitization injections

This tip is brought to you by KAM Animal Services, home of KAM’s “Equine Learning Circle” FREE monthly webinars and weekly tips. Go to www.kamanimalservices.com  to register for the next webinar or sign-up to be notified when a new tip comes out. KAM also has a Tip Contest going on and you could be a winner of $750 worth of KAM products.