If your horse or pony has a respiratory problem such as a cough, he wheezes or is short of breath he could be suffering from Recurrent Airway Obstruction (RAO) or Summer Pasture-Associated Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (SPAOD) - also known as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).
Horses and ponies suffering from these conditions need special care and management to allow them to live a comfortable and active life.
Difficulty in breathing causes the horse's flanks to heave - hence equine respiratory problems have been traditionally known by many horse owners as "Heaves". This condition is also described as "broken wind", "hay-straw allergy" or emphysema.
RAO and SPAOD both affect the smaller airways of the lungs and affect the horse's capacity and ability to breathe. These diseases cause thickening of the airway walls and the secretion of excess mucus.
RAO is an equine disease affecting the horse or pony's lungs. It is also referred to as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) although some equine veterinary surgeons now prefer to use the description of RAO as there is also a human disease called COPD.
SPAOD (summer pasture-associated obstructive pulmonary disease), produces similar symptoms to RAO / COPD but has different causes. It is is associated with the pollens and dust particles that a horse is exposed to during the summer months, especially when it is very hot and humid.
Up until fairly recently, SPAOD was originally found mainly in the South East of the USA, now more cases are being seen elsewhere in the world, especially in the UK. This could be due to climate changes as a result of global warming. SPAOD occurs in the UK in horses that are kept out at grass during warm and humid weather conditions.
Another equine respiratory disease is Strangles. This is highly contagious and most commonly seen in young horses. Symptoms of Strangles include a high temperature, enlarged glands under the jaws, thick nasal discharge, a high temperature and a cough. The swollen glands may form abscesses which burst. Older and very young horses and ponies are more susceptible to strangles.
If you suspect that your horse may have Strangles call your vet immediately. The horse or pony must be isolated to try to contain the spread of the disease. The horse may have difficulty in eating, in which case a gruel can be fed.
A long rest period is necessary following an episode of Strangles to ensure that no permanent damage is done to the horse's respiratory system.
It is essential to have these conditions correctly diagnosed and treated by a veterinary surgeon.