COPD: Police Horses Need Healthcare, Too

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Video courtesy of ACVIM’s “We Are Animal Survivors” series.

Everyone loves police horses. And yet, everyone is afraid of police horses. The gentle giants who stand patiently on a street corner can turn into hoof-stomping crowd-clearers at the whisk of a tail.

But when police horses go home at night, they turn back into regular horses. They want to roll in the sand hole, munch on some hay, splash around by the water trough and rub that spot.

And when something goes wrong, they want someone to call the vet. And in the case of a police horse, needing to see the vet means calling in sick.

Police horses are tough, but sometimes just not tough enough.

What if you have a small crew, though, and more than one horse is sick?

When several of the New Orleans police horses needed the vet all at once, the alarm went off. Something was wrong. They were coughing and wheezing, showing signs of chronic pulmonary obstruction disease (COPD). The symptoms of COPD are easily recognizable by humans who have asthma. And police horses who are short of breath have no place on the street.

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The video mentions that the horses were evaluated by a technique called bronchoalveolar lavage (BAL). In order to find out what is going on in the lower airways of the horse, the veterinarian uses an endoscope for examination but in this procedure also takes a sample for analysis.

The liquid that is aspirated can be examined under a microscope for specific irritants. The horse in the video was not one of the New Orleans Police horses.

COPD is a common problem in horses. Whether it’s caused by a specific allergic trigger or brought on by longterm exposure to dusty, moldy hay, it’s a problem that horses–and their owners–don’t want to have, but–like asthma–many are living with it.

As this video shows, the stables of the New Orleans Police Department had been flooded during Hurricane Katrina in 2005. Even though they have been repaired, it is possible that some mold or some other environmental trigger related to weather or dust or feed made the horses sick.

Whatever it was, the horses were treated responsibly and observed on a longterm basis. The New Orleans police have only 24 horses, and they’re planning to continue to use them to elevate police presence in the city and during events.

In February of this year, the stunning Clydesdale named Bud joined the crew. The Budweiser Clydesdales participated in a fundraiser for the city’s mounted unit, as well. I can imagine a commercial for the Budweiser Clydesdales during next year’s Super Bowl: one of the hitch horses will run away thinking he’s headed to party the night away at Mardi Gras, and then ends of saving lives and keeping the peace as a four-hooved New Orleans crowd controller.

Police horses on duty in the party capital of America.

New Orleans is justifiably proud of its police horses, who have been on the job and on the streets since 1925. In fact, the horses and the people sometimes appear to be partying together on the streets of The Big Easy. Check out one ?of Rocky’s pals on the job:

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Photo of horses at work at night in New Orleans by John Parker/”urgetopunt”.

If Dr Barker looks familiar, she was the veterinarian who worked so hard to convince the Louisiana State vet school to perform an amputation surgery for Molly the Pony, a rescued Katrina survivor.

To learn more:

Helpful reference document on Recurrent Airway Obstruction (RAO) in horses by Dr Amanda House of the University of Florida.

Free download: 2007 Consensus Statement Document from American College of Veterinary Internal Medicine: Inflammatory Airways Disease of Horses.




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