4 facts about heaves in horses

Do you know the basics about equine asthma (commonly known as heaves)?

1. “Heaves” is the common term for equine asthma, a respiratory disease characterized by a narrowing of the small airways of the lungs, which makes exhaling difficult.

Close up of a horse flared nostrils, possible due to equine asthma.
In advanced cases of equine asthma a horse’s nostrils flare and an audible “wheeze” may be heard with each breath.

2.  Tiny dust particles pulled deep into the airway trigger inflammation in the lungs. Research suggests that some horses inherit an increased sensitivity to dust, which makes them more susceptible to equine asthma.

3. Common signs of equine asthma include fast, deep breathing along with coughing and mucus discharge from the nose. In advanced cases, a horse’s nostrils flare and an audible “wheeze” may be heard with each breath. Horses with chronic heaves can develop a distinct “heaves line” along the abdomen as the muscles that help them exhale get overused.

4. Steroids and bronchodilators given orally or inhaled can be used in “rescue” situations, but long-term treatment of a horse with asthma requires eliminating as much dust as possible from his environment. This often requires that the horse be kept outdoors on grass pasture and fed hay that has been thoroughly watered down to reduce dust. Horses with asthma may also benefit from a dust-free pelleted ration.

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