What is COPD?
COPD or Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (also known as Heaves or RAO) is an allergic disease of the lungs. It leads to constriction of the airways and makes it difficult for the horse to breathe.
What causes COPD?
COPD is most commonly seen in winter, due to an allergic response to dust or fungal spores found on hay or straw. The mechanism is similar to asthma in humans. The horse’s immune system responds to the particles causing constriction of the airway and increased secretion of thick mucous. Both these factors leave less space for air to pass into the lungs and the horse is forced to breathe deeply and quickly.
Signs of COPD
- Heavy breathing.
- Rapid breathing.
- Thick nasal discharge.
- Coughing at rest or exercise.
- Formation of a muscular line on the flank (a heave line).
- Signs decrease in the summer or if the horse is out in the field.
Occasionally an apparently normal horse will suddenly begin to struggle breathing due an acute attack of COPD. Call Oaklands Equine Hospital immediately on 01642 760313.
Keep the horse calm and where possible place in a quiet but well ventilated place. Upon arrival the vet will administer a steroid and airway dilator which should quickly make it easier for your horse to breathe.
Diagnosis of COPD
Diagnosis can usually be made on clinical signs alone. If necessary your vet may suggest a scope and tracheal wash sample to confirm the diagnosis.
Long term prevention and treatment of COPD
Before long term medical therapy is started numerous managemental changes should be made. The focus of these is removing the horse from the dust (or vice versa):
- Turn out as often as possible.
- Use dust free shavings or shredded paper with rubber matting. AVOID STRAW.
- Avoid straw in neighbouring stables which share airspace.
- Feed haylage rather than hay.
- Feed on the floor, avoid hay nets.
- Remove the horse from the box when mucking out and bedding down.
- Increase ventilation in the stable. (Cob webs or collecting dust means poor ventilation).
- Stick to the management plan long term.
Should these changes not be sufficient your vet will advise you on possible medical treatment. This revolves around steroid and bronchodilator therapy. These drugs act to reduce the amount and viscosity of the mucous in the airway and help open the airway.
- Oral steroid (Prednisolone) and bronchodilator (Ventipulmin) – are a very good short term treatment. However, daily oral steroid can have numerous detrimental side effects. Ventipulmin alone will work well for a few days but the airway becomes de-sensitised to it quite quickly.
- Inhaled drugs work in the same way. The use of the inhaler means fewer side-effects, but the drugs are quite expensive. Oaklands can offer the hire of an inhaler, short term, before you consider purchase.
- Nebulised drugs are similar to inhaled, but are much cheaper. However, the nebuliser itself is expensive.
Long-term, the course of the disease depends largely on the effort that is put into improving the air quality of the environment in which the horse is kept. While there is no permanent cure for the disease, complete or near complete recovery from the clinical signs may be achieved with appropriate management.
If you have any questions or concerns regarding COPD or any other condition please do not hesitate to contact us.