Horse Coughing Problems, Causes and Treatment

Last Updated on April 4, 2022 by Allison Price

Signs that Horses Have Respiratory Problems

A horse may have a cough if they are experiencing irritation in their respiratory system. There are many types of coughs, and each type can be helpful in determining the cause.

  • What is the duration and frequency of horse coughing?
  • A mild cough is not something to be concerned about. However, if you have persistent coughing or are accompanied by other symptoms it could indicate a more serious problem.
  • Is your cough dry?
  • Dry cough indicates that there is no phlegm. The nasal discharge indicates excessive mucus or phlegm.
  • Is it possible for horses to cough on the same property?
  • One horse in a barn or yard of horses can cough up an infectious agent, such as a virus that causes respiratory problems. The problem is unlikely to be infectious if one horse has a cough and it’s not in company with others.
  • Is the horse hungry?
  • Choke can also be caused by sudden onset of coughing. This happens when food is stuck in the horse’s stomach. Although it is not a serious condition, it can cause severe breathing problems. You should immediately stop feeding your horse and let them breathe.
  • Is the horse a recent traveler?
  • It is important to immediately investigate a cough that develops after a horse has traveled. The horse may have contracted a virus from another horse during transport or at an event. Another possibility is Shipping Fever which can affect horses who have traveled long distances.
  • Are there any other signs or symptoms in the horse’s body?
  • A cough that is accompanied by other symptoms like a horse not eating, a fever or reduced performance are signs of a respiratory infection.

Veterinary Investigation

A veterinarian should be consulted if a horse experiences coughing that is accompanied by nasal discharge, increased temperature, decreased performance, or has been reported to several horses at the same time. A thorough veterinary investigation could include listening to the horse’s chest and blood work. Endoscopic examinations, nasal swabs, bloodwork, endoscopic examinations, tracheal and lung washing may also be performed. These tests can help to determine the cause of the problem and to create a treatment plan.

What Causes Horses to Cough?

  • Influenza (Flu): Although influenza is a preventable disease, it can still cause coughing and respiratory infections in horses. Influenza is caused and spread quickly by a virus. Influenza can be accompanied by a high temperature and a decreased appetite. Influenza can be life-threatening for horses who have not been vaccinated.
  • Equine herpes virus (EHV), a common cause of clear nasal discharge and coughing in young horses, is a common condition. This virus can quickly spread to other horses in the yard that have not been infected. Although it is usually mild, it can lead to elevated temperatures and decreased feed intake. The incidence of EHV can be reduced by vaccination.
  • Strangles: This is the most common cause of respiratory infection in horses. It is caused by the highly infectious bacteria Streptococcus Equi. Strangles can quickly spread to other horses in a yard through nasal discharge or contaminated exudates. You will notice symptoms such as increased temperature, decreased appetite, coughing, and swelling of the lymph nodes (glands). The swelling of the glands can cause the skin to burst, releasing pus.
  • Horses with chronic obstructive lung disease (COPD), inflammatory airway disease, recurrent obstruction (ROA), or heaves are all common causes of coughing. This is due to an allergic reaction in the horse’s lung to dust, mould spores and other irritant particles. Equine asthma cannot be transmitted between horses.
Coughing Problems
  • Lungworm: A condition that causes infection of the lower respiratory system, often resulting in pneumonia or bronchitis, and is typically only found in horses that are grazed with donkeys.
  • EIPH (Exercise Induced Pulmonary Haemorrhage): This is most common in racehorses. Most horses with EIPH do not have bloody nasal discharge, but it is common for horses to cough up blood as they try to remove the blood from their airways.
  • Shipping Fever: This is a form of bacterial pneumonia that occurs when a horse cannot drop its head for long periods of time. It can also occur when they are unable to clear their airways of mucus, dirt, and debris (e.g. If the horse is kept tied up during long-distance transportation. If left untreated shipping fever can cause severe pleuropneumonia which can prove to be fatal.
  • Ascarids (Equine Roundworm): This parasite, known as Parascaris equorum in horses under three years of age, is usually not a problem. They first appear in the stomach before moving to the lungs. Roundworms can be resistant in older horses, so they are not an issue for coughing.
  • Rhodococcus Equi Pneumonia. Rhodococcus Equi pneumonia is caused by a bacterium found in the soil. It can cause pneumonia in foals between 1 and 6 months old. The disease is contracted by foals inhaling pathogen-laden particles. It is nearly impossible to eradicate Rhodococcus Equi once it has established itself in the soil. Future generations of foals will still be at risk.

Horse Cough Treatment

There are many treatments for coughing horses, as they can be affected by a variety of conditions. For horses suffering from influenza, herpes, or strangles, it is a good idea to give them two days of rest each day they cough. The recovery process takes twice as long as the disease. However, it is important to discuss this with your veterinarian. Too soon riding a horse when their airways are not fully healed can be dangerous. Your veterinarian can also tell you if your horse requires prescription medication.

Some management changes can help reduce the risk of developing respiratory disease. Keep your horse current with his vaccinations, and talk to your veterinarian about the best deworming and treatment options. Reduce dust in horses’ environment by using only dust-free bedding, adequate ventilation in barns and stables, and steaming or soaking hay.

Horses with respiratory problems such as asthma should be turned out daily or even live out their lives 24/7. Some pollens may be triggers for horses with equine asthma. They can also worsen the condition. It may be best to avoid turning these horses out during high pollen counts or poor air quality.

Allison Price
Allison Price

I’m Allison, born and raised in San Diego California, the earliest memory I have with horses was at my grandfather’s farm. I used to sit at the stable as a kid and hang out with my Papa while he was training the horses. When I was invited to watch a horse riding competition, I got so fascinated with riding!