copd in horses

Understanding chronic obstructive pulmonary disease in Horses: Causes, Symptoms, and Treatment

by | Jul 6, 2023 | Equine Health, Equine Treatment

Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD), commonly referred to as ‘heaves,’ is a bane in the lives of many horses and the individuals who care for them with unwavering commitment. This recurrent condition, characterized by periodic episodes of coughing, difficult breathing, and a significant reduction in athletic prowess, is unfortunately commonplace and can be severely debilitating for our equine counterparts.

Understanding COPD in Horses

COPD, or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease in horses, also commonly referred to as ‘heaves,’ ‘broken wind,’ or ‘allergic bronchitis,’ is a persistent, irreversible pulmonary condition. Not dissimilar to its human counterpart, COPD in horses is a result of inflamed airways that hinder the normal respiratory process, leading to labored breathing and reduced stamina.
Human and horse COPD, despite the shared moniker, diverge when it comes to their causes. Whereas in humans it often results from long-term smoking, equine COPD is usually the result of environmental conditions. However, both afflictions result in progressive breathing difficulties, leaving the patient, whether human or horse, in a state of chronic respiratory distress. Understanding this parallel aids in comprehending the severity of this condition in our equine friends.

Causes of COPD in Horses

A plethora of factors can potentially cause COPD in horses, but a predominant contributor is environmental, specifically the presence of dust and mold spores in the horse’s environment. Poorly ventilated stables, for instance, can exacerbate COPD in horses due to the high levels of irritants in the air. Similarly, a diet composed of dry hay, which can carry dust and mold spores, can also instigate COPD.

To combat this, it’s recommended to opt for products that help reduce these risks. One highly-rated product is the “HayGain Hay Steamer,” which mitigates the dust and mold spores in the hay, making it safer for horses susceptible to COPD.

Another crucial factor to note is the increased risk in older horses. Like many health conditions, COPD is an ailment whose risk increases with age. Hence, careful attention should be paid to the management and living conditions of older horses.

Symptoms of COPD in Horses

Common signs include coughing, especially when exercised or when stabled, increased breathing rate, nasal discharge, and general loss of fitness and condition. These signs may seem innocuous in isolation, but when presented in tandem, they could be indicative of COPD.

One of the most common symptoms, persistent coughing, can be monitored using devices like “The Smart Halter”. This device can provide valuable insight into your horse’s health and alert you to any abnormal coughing patterns, enabling early detection of possible COPD.

Related: Best Supplements for Horses with Heaves


Treatment for COPD in Horses

While COPD is a chronic and irreversible condition, proper treatment and management can alleviate symptoms and improve the quality of life for affected horses. Medicinal treatments, combined with lifestyle changes, can manage the symptoms significantly.

For medicinal care, corticosteroids and bronchodilators are often prescribed by veterinarians. Products like “Ventipulmin Syrup,” a popular bronchodilator, can aid in relaxing the horse’s airways, reducing breathing difficulties.

Lifestyle changes, particularly in the horse’s environment, can have a profound effect. For instance, ensuring your horse spends as much time outside as possible, preferably in pasture, can drastically reduce exposure to airborne irritants. For those times when stabling is necessary, dust free bedding is a great option for horses with COPD. We recommend Pelletized Bedding from Tractor Supply Co.

Related: Pelleted Bedding for Horses – Is it Worth it?


COPD in horses is a significant health concern, presenting formidable challenges to those who adore these magnificent creatures. Yet, with understanding, early detection, and proper management, the battle is far from lost. The journey may be strenuous, but the strength, companionship, and spirit ofour horses merit nothing less than our absolute best.

Understanding the intricate dance of causes, symptoms, and treatments of COPD in horses equips you with the tools to best ensure their welfare. With top-tier products like the “HayGain Hay Steamer,” the “The Smart Halter,” “Ventipulmin Syrup”, and Pelletized Bedding from Tractor Supply Co combined with professional veterinary care, horses affected by COPD can still bask in the joy of trotting beneath the open sky, the wind whistling through their manes.

About The Author

<a href="" target="_self">Issabella Mitchel</a>

Issabella Mitchel

Isabella is a remarkable equestrian and racehorse trainer, hailing from the horse capital of the world, Kentucky. Growing up in the heart of bluegrass country, she developed a deep affinity for horses from an early age.

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