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Pasture-Associated Respiratory Disease in HorsesBy Kentucky Equine Research Staff · August 28, 2017

If you’re huffing and puffing over the frustration of managing a horse with equine asthma, steel yourself for a new problem: summer pasture-associated obstructive respiratory disease (SPAORD)*.

According to a recent study on equine allergies**, some horses residing in the southeastern United States and maintained on pasture can develop an allergy to airborne environmental allergens.

“Signs of SPAORD include coughing, excessive airway mucus production, exercise intolerance, and difficulty breathing,” explained Kathleen Crandell, Ph.D., a nutritionist for Kentucky Equine Research (KER).

She added, “Exacerbation of these signs in affected horses tends to occur in the summer months, presumably due to the increase in environmental allergens, such as grass pollen and fungal spores.”

But wait, weren’t we told that horses with heaves (severe equine asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease or COPD, recurrent airway obstruction or RAO) should be managed outdoors? In fact, all of the latest research on equine asthma suggests the following:

  • Moving stalled horses to an outside environment completely or extending the number of hours horses spend outside;
  • Maximizing ventilation when horses are stalled and bedding with low-dust options such as wood byproducts;
  • Purchasing dust- or mold-free hay and wetting, soaking, or steaming it prior to feeding to reduce inhaled particles; and
  • Offering an alternative feed than hay for low-dust options.

“It appears that SPAOPD is considered more of an allergy rather than an inflammatory condition like heaves. In the case of SPAOPD, intradermal skin testing to identify the trigger followed by allergen-specific immunotherapy or ‘allergy shots’ are currently believed to help affected horses,” Crandell noted.

While research on these apparently similar yet incongruous respiratory conditions continues, one thing is certain: supplementation with omega-3 fatty acids, especially marine-derived EPA and DHA such as those included in EO•3, possess natural anti-inflammatory properties and help horses with respiratory issues.

*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.

**Lane, M.J., C.M. Pucheu-Haston, M.T. Kearney, et al. Determination of irritant threshold concentrations of multiple tree, grass, weed and mould allergens for intradermal testing of horses residing in the southern USA. Veterinary Dermatology. In press.