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6 tips for caughing horses

Coughing is one of the most common reasons why horses cannot be ridden anymore. It is a familiar problem and yet people are often helpless. Very few people have the luxury of being able to decide everything around their stable management and are usually bound to the conditions of their pension stable. We have put together 6 tips that can help your horse with coughing.

We have put together six tips and tricks that can help your horse with coughing. Coughing and respiratory diseases like RAO and IAD often have a wide range of causes and different factors can play a role. Our tips are a first step towards improvement and can help to get to the bottom of the cause. Coughing in horses is not like a mild cold in humans that goes away on its own. It is a serious symptom which, if ignored for a long time, has the potential to become chronic. It is advisable to work closely with your vet to find the cause.

1. Expand the time outside the stable

Die Weide: Ideal für Pferde mit Atemwegsproblemen

One of the main causes of coughing in horses is the stable management. The constant dust in poorly ventilated stables means stress for the horse's lungs and in the long term can lead to coughing and chronic diseases such as IAD and RAO. Therefore, the primary aim should be to optimise the conditions in which the horse is kept. In the pasture the horse is not constantly exposed to dust and ammonia, therefore more grazing time can often bring great relief.

 

2. Check the hay quality

Pferd frisst qualitativ hochwertiges Heu

For horses it is essential to avoid long feeding breaks (> 4 hours), but hay quality also plays an important role. Among other things, the cut, smell and colour of the hay determine the quality of the hay. 
Hay is usually mowed once in spring (1st cut) and once in autumn (2nd cut). The hay from the first cut has longer stalks and a high proportion of plant fiber, while the second cut is more energetic. Ideally, hay from the first cut should be used to support the horse's digestion.

Especially horses with respiratory diseases and coughing should avoid mould and fungal spores in the forage. An important indicator here is the smell and colour of the hay. The hay should smell have a sweet and fresh odur rather than musty and the colour should be green or beige. Brown, black or grey hay is mouldy and should never be fed. Fungal spores are unfortunately not easy to identify. The hay is often very dusty and there are sometimes small black spots on the straws.

In summary:

  • Long straws
  • Green or beige colour
  • Contains little dust
  • No black spots on the stems

In order to guarantee good hay quality, the vegetation of the meadow is the most important factor. Most pastures in Germany are sown with grass mixtures for cows that contain a lot of protein. However, the sensitive horse's stomach is designed for steppe grass with a high proportion of plant fibre and cannot process this grass well. In addition, various herbs should also be planted there and it should be regularly checked for poisonous plants.

Moreover, the storage of the hay is decisive. Ideally the hay should be stored as dark and dry as possible and without direct contact to the ground.

A popular alternative is silage or haylage, as these products contain less dust. A shorter drying phase and wrapping the grass in foil makes it more durable and it also contains more moisture than hay. However, silage offers other health risks, especially for light-fed horses. Due to preservation, silage has much higher values for energy and proteins and therefore brings with it the danger of overfeeding. Silage is therefore not suitable for making it available to the horse ad libitum. However, long feeding breaks often cause stomach problems and metabolic stress.

Thus a good hay quality is the basis for a healthy horse. If the hay in your stable is very dusty or even mouldy, there will certainly be more horses with respiratory or stomach problems. First and foremost it is worth talking to the farm owner about the possibilities to improve the hay quality and to point out the consequences. Otherwise you can also team up with other owners and look for alternatives. Even if the monthly costs are higher, veterinary costs can be saved in the long term.

3. Steam the hay

Heu bedampfen für Pferde mit COPB, COB, RAO, IAD, EA

For horses with respiratory problems, it is a popular measure to wash or water the hay to reduce dust exposure. Watering the hay is much cheaper, but also involves many risks. Watering the hay makes it lose nutrients and the germ content increases rapidly. For horses with respiratory problems, it is a popular measure to wash or water the hay to reduce dust exposure. Watering the hay makes it lose nutrients and the germ content increases rapidly. Watering the hay is much cheaper, but also involves many risks. Due to the high moisture content, the bacteria quickly stick to the hay and end up in the stomach instead of in the lungs. The far better alternative is to steam the hay, as the nutrients are not lost and the germs do not multiply even after long steaming. Unfortunately, we do not recommend the use of home-made steamers either, as these do not heat the hay evenly and often the materials used are not made of heat-resistant plastic. We recommend renting a hay steamer for testing purposes or getting together with others from the stable community.

 

4. Use high-quality litter

Staubfreie Einstreu

Especially for horses in stables, litter is one of the biggest causes of high dust generation. Of course, good ventilation through open windows and doors in the stable also contribute to the air quality, but it is even better if the dust is reduced in the first place. As the ventilation in the barn often cannot be influenced, ideally at least the litter should be changed. If even more horses in the stable are affected, it may be possible to choose boxes next to each other, as the neighbor boxes also play a decisive role. But is there actually a dust-free bedding for horses? Straw is already known to be associated with a very high dust production. Nowadays, there is a wide range of alternatives that are associated with a lower dust generation, from linen straw, hemp and shavings to miscanthus (elephant grass). Additionally, there are other alternatives, such as hippodung and forest soil, which according to the manufacturers block the production of ammonia. This results in less manure, which is also desirable from an environmental point of view. It is up to the owner to decide what is good for the horse. If you are unsure, it is recommended to consult your vet.

 

5. Exercise

Pferd in der freien Bewegung

Exercise helps to cleanse the horse's respiratory tract and get its metabolism going, preferably in the fresh air. Only horses that cough should not overexert themselves, to avoid further irritation of the pulmonary alveoli. However, it should be remembered that also a very dusty training arena can a stress factor. Here, it is up to the owner to evaluate what is best for his horse and what is too much. If you are unsure, it is advisable to consult your vet.

6. Inhalation

Pferde inhalieren mit AirOne Inhalator

For us humans it is quite normal to inhale steam when we have a cold and everyone knows that for COPD patients and asthmatics a holiday at the seaside is a relief. The same applies for horses with respiratory diseases such as IAD and RAO, as inhalation has also established itself as the most successful therapy form. Unfortunately, not everyone is able to accommodate their horse at the seaside or travel there several times a year. Therefore, there are  alternatives that also work at home in your barn. There are  many suppliers who rent out a saltair trailer where the horses can inhale without a mask. This can also habe a effect on skin problems such as sweet itch. The advantage of inhalation with a mask, however, is that sufficient substance can reach the lower respiratory tract. In addition, medicines and other care products such as bi-medEctoin® can also be nebulised. An inhaler is an initial investment, but there are several places where you can rent inhalers and trailers.

 

What experiences have you had with your horse? Do you have any other tips for other horse owners?

 

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