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365 Days in Horse Country – Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD)

Blog by Michael Stuart Webb | December 20th, 2013

365 Days in Horse Country – Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD)


If horses could get asthma, It would be called chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).  This oftentimes, debilitating disease causes difficulty breathing in, and more difficulty breathing out.  Horses with this condition can often be heard wheezing loudly, coughing, or experiencing shortness of breath.

Horses have long suffered from this condition, which is also called “heaves” by laypersons.  An old cowboy term, “broken wind” is also still used on occasion to refer to horses with COPD.

In the old days, people thought horses developed COPD by being run too hard.  We now know that COPD is caused by a genetic predisposition to this condition, which involves an inflammatory response that causes restrictions of the airways.

Poor ventilation and dusty hay and bedding are some of the culprits in the development and exacerbation of COPD.  Sometimes airborne or food allergies can also trigger bouts of this condition.

The best treatment for horses suffering from COPD is fresh air free of dust and allergens.  Soaking a horse’s hay before each feeding can also help because it cuts down on dust.  In severe cases, veterinarians recommend bronchodilators to open up the horse’s airways or corticosteroids to help reduce inflammation of the lungs.