Spring 2019

When Asthma Isn’t Obvious

An equine pulmonologist works with veterinarians in the field to conduct a specialized type of liquid biopsy.

By Genevieve Rajewski

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Photo: Shutterstock

Asthma is a common condition in horses, but it can be surprisingly difficult to diagnose. Signs can be as severe as a horse’s flanks heaving from the difficulty of drawing breaths, yet they can also be as subtle as a championship filly slowing by just three lengths—blink and you’ll miss it. Horses’ environments only complicate the diagnosis and management of breathing issues, said Professor Melissa Mazan, V93, because “things that precipitate asthma—particulates like pollen, hay molds, mites, dander, and manure dust—are everywhere.”

To help uncover the source of lung inflammation, Mazan works with veterinarians in the field to conduct a specialized type of liquid biopsy called a bronchoalveolar lavage, which delivers a flush of sterile saline to collect mucus from deep within the lungs. She examines the cells under a microscope to determine if the cause of the respiratory issue is environmental, bacterial, fungal, or physiological. Then, the nationally renowned equine pulmonologist can advise on how to get the horse healthy and back to athletic work.

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