How to manage emphysema problems of your horse?

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If your horse shows symptoms of coughing, throwing (secretions coming out of the nose) and difficulty in breathing out, especially during exercise, it may have emphysema. In concrete terms, this chronic disease, also known as “obstructive deep airway disease”, affects horses that are generally older than 7 or 8 years of age, and manifests itself in particular through breathing difficulties. The cause of these difficulties is clearly identified, it is a hypersensitivity to the dust and mould contained in the hay. If your vet concludes that it is indeed emphysema, he will prescribe a treatment to relieve your horse, which will have to be accompanied by drastic changes in his lifestyle.

Diagnosing Emphysema of horses

Emphysema is the result of chronic inflammation of the lungs, which causes an overproduction of mucus in the horse’s airways. This mucus is not evacuated in sufficient quantities, making it difficult for your horse to exhale.

In addition to the symptoms already mentioned, emphysema can manifest itself in different ways. Emphysema can lead to an increase in respiratory rate, shortness of breath during exercise, marked contraction of the abdominal muscles when exhaling, dilation of the nostrils, or weight loss (the horse will burn more energy to exhale air from its lungs).

Treating your horse’s emphysema

To relieve this disease in, your veterinarian may prescribe several treatments:

  • Anti-inflammatory drugs in the form of corticosteroids: these can be administered as a general treatment and reduce the inflammation of the horse’s lungs. However, they can cause undesirable long-term side effects. The preferred method of administration is inhalation, which is very effective but more difficult to carry out as it requires adapted equipment. The main advantage of this treatment is the compatibility of the corticoids with essential oils or herbal solutions, which may eventually supplant anti-inflammatory drugs.
  • Dietary supplements rich in plant extracts, which relieve the horse’s respiratory system.
  • Bronchodilators, administered as a syrup and intended to allow a better passage of air into the horse’s respiratory tract.
  • Mucolytics, which reduce the secretion of mucus that clogs the horse’s airways.

Emphysema: how to adapt your horse’s lifestyle?

In addition to medical treatment, it is important to adapt your animal’s lifestyle in order to limit its exposure to dust, which is the main cause of this disease in horses.

In particular, make sure you :

  • Take your horse out in the meadow as often as possible to avoid contact with dust contained in hay or straw.
  • Give wet hay to your horse (soaked for at least 2 hours), or dedusted with a hay purifier.
  • Work your horse in a well-watered quarry or outdoors.
  • Exchange straw bedding for wood shavings bedding.
  • Clean the stalls of your horse and its neighbours very regularly to avoid the inhalation of ammonia vapours, which are very irritating to its respiratory tract.
  • Regularly renew the air in the stables by ventilating the facilities as much as possible.


Emphysema is a chronic disease of the horse which requires a life-long, sometimes expensive, treatment as well as a change in your horse’s lifestyle. It is also listed as a redhibitory defect and can therefore justify the cancellation of a sale.

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