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Fish Oil and Corticosteroids for Airway Disease in HorsesBy Kentucky Equine Research Staff · June 21, 2017

Many owners suffer alongside their horses with airway disease, feeling distress while watching horses cough during exercise and perform with difficulty. Despite the widespread incidence of airway disease in horses, treatment options remain limited. According to a recent study*, many horses need more than just corticosteroid anti-inflammatories to improve airway health.

Currently, many veterinarians recommend corticosteroids such as dexamethasone and inhaled fluticasone for horses diagnosed with inflammatory airway disease (IAD), which is considered mild asthma in the spectrum of equine asthma syndrome**.

“The most recently updated recommendations by the American College of Veterinary Internal Medicine include dietary supplementation with fish oil containing EPA and DHA (the marine-derived fish oils) for the management of horses with equine asthma, which includes IAD,” relayed Kathleen Crandell, Ph.D., a nutritionist for Kentucky Equine Research (KER).

To better understand exactly how corticosteroids help asthmatic horses, a Canadian-based research team* studied both dexamethasone and inhaled fluticasone in horses diagnosed with IAD. They found that both medications decreased airway hyperresponsiveness, or the constriction of respiratory muscles that decrease the diameter of the airways. However, no improvement in the clinical signs of IAD and no decrease in the number of inflammatory cells in the lower airways (measured by bronchoalveolar lavage or “lung wash”) occurred.

Together, these findings prompted the study authors to conclude, “In our opinion, these results reflect the complex nature of the disease and that more specific diagnostic means are needed to appropriately assess the response to treatment.”

“To help asthmatic horses, KER offers EO•3, a potent marine-derived oil rich in the omega-3 fatty acids DHA and EPA, that is top-dressed onto the feed,” Crandell recommended.

Review these eight important tips to help minimize the development of disease or reduce the severity of asthma attacks.

*Léguillette, R., T. Tohver, S.L. Bond, et al. 2017. Effect of dexamethasone and fluticasone on airway hyperresponsiveness in horses with inflammatory airway disease. Journal of Veterinary Internal Medicine. In press.

**Couëtil, L.L., J.M. Cardwell, V. Gerber, et al. 2016. Inflammatory airway disease of horses—Revised  consensus statement. Journal of Veterinary Internal Medicine. 30(2):503-515.