Heaves. Another term that you do not want to hear if you have a horse! The coughing, the elevated respiratory rate, the phlegm. All of these things make daily life difficult for your horse.
What is Heaves? As respiratory research has advanced on this particular ‘breathing’ issue, the term Heaves is now often called Recurrent Airway Obstruction (RAO), as this is much closer to what is actually happening. Dr. Thomas’ research into RAO has clarified that a horse suffering from this respiratory problem is much like humans suffering from bronchial asthma. The symptoms are very much the same; i.e. inflammation, phlegm production, bronchial constriction, spasms, allergies, and sometimes an existing infection. When this has been going on for some time, the horse will often develop a “heave line” on the underneath side of the abdomen. This is due to the constant strain of the muscles trying to force the air through the bronchial tubes.
What makes your horse’s Heaves worse? Heat and humidity will affect breathing for horses who do not have any lung issues, and for a horse with Heaves, this will be much worse. It takes extra abdominal effort and breathing will be heavier, and the respiratory rate will be higher. Steroids will make things worse over time, even though they will seem to help at first. Steroids will weaken the immune system, so much so, that your horse will be unable to fight off anything that is currently present or that may come along. Heaves has a significant allergic component that makes healthy immune function imperative. An impaired immune function will make breathing more difficult, and if there is an existing infection, this will also interfere with breathing ease.
So, what do you do about it? Aside from the Heaves formula from For Love of the Horse, there is little hope, as Western medicine really has limited answers for this breathing issue. Eliminating allergens such as dust and mold will help greatly. Many horses are allergic to the dust in their hay. Sometimes, wetting, soaking, or steaming hay is the best option for eliminating the dust and mold. If your horse is allergic to dust, keeping your barn clean and free from dust and cobwebs will help. Installing stall mats that can be cleaned daily, and eliminating dusty bedding will be essential. Also, do not use cedar bedding for your stalls. This smells wonderful, but will cause respiratory issues and lesions on the lungs.
Figuring out what your horse’s trigger is and eliminating it will help your horse breathe much easier. Treating the problem at the source, as with the Heaves formula from For Love of the Horse ( http://www.forloveofthehorse.com/heaves.php ), will work wonders to fix the problem completely so that your horse can recover.
Here’s to easier breathing!