Equine Asthma

If you’re part of the horse world, you’ve probably heard of the severe respiratory disease known as heaves (otherwise known as recurrent airway obstruction, or RAO) and you may have heard of the milder disease, inflammatory airway disease, otherwise known as IAD. Other names you may have heard are allergic airway disease, small airway disease, or COPD. All of these diseases fall under the spectrum of equine asthma, and horses with any form of equine asthma have airway inflammation that causes the signs that you as an owner or rider see, ranging from poor performance to cough and nasal discharge, to overt respiratory distress. We’ve known for a very long time that the horse’s environment is responsible for most of the ills that beset our equine companions – even Aristotle noted that horses ‘at pasture [were] largely free from disease,’ (‘A plaine and easie waie to remedie a horse’: equine medicine in early modern England by Louise Hill Curth) describing a condition known as ‘heartache’, which was probably heaves.

Equine asthma, whether IAD or heaves, is usually treatable, but not necessarily curable. It can take a lifetime of management, but with an accurate diagnosis, proper treatment, and environmental improvements, most horses will return to some form of athletic function. We’d like to help your horse return to being the athlete that he should be. So read on to learn and find out what the Lung Function Laboratory at Tufts Cummings can do for you and your horse.

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