EQUUS Consultants: Heaves & Nosebleeds

EQUUS magazine's stable of experts has answers to readers' tough questions on heaves and nosebleeds.

Help For The Heavey

Question: My 11-year-old gelding had been prescribed prednisone to control his heaves, but I found that — as you reported in the March 2001 issue (see “Hold the Prednisone,” EQUUS 282) — that it did not help much and that environmental changes were much more effective. I wet down his hay and keep him outdoors as much as possible, which has really helped. However, he still suffers from signs such as nasal discharge, especially after trailering. I’m taking extra care in making the trailer as clean as possible and I wet down his hay before putting it in the trailer. Is there anything else I can do for him?

Answer: It sounds as if you are taking the right steps to protect your horse’s respiratory health. The best management for the majority of “heavey” horses–the exceptions being those whose heaves is associated with pasture–is fulltime turnout with access to an open shelter. This strategy is healthy and humane even where winters are severe and prolonged.

Your horse’s nasal discharge probably does not reflect any current or new disease in his lungs. Extra mucus is produced by the lung in response to inflammation. If an allergy, irritation or infection is prolonged, the hypersecretion of mucus persists for months or years–and may even last a lifetime. The extra mucus is sometimes cleared by a few wet coughs early in exercise or after a play session in the field, and most of the fluid drains away as the horse lowers his head to graze.

However, when a heavey horse is trailered for more than a few minutes, these secretions tend to pool at the point where the windpipe divides into the two large bronchi that enter the lungs. This accumulation provokes little, if any, coughing during the trip, but when the horse is unloaded and either allow to graze or asked to move about, the mucus either drains or gets coughed out, appearing at the nostril. After a road trip, I recommend giving horses with heaves an opportunity to graze before being bridled or put to work so that their lung secretions can be cleared rather than sucked deeper into the airways.

So, in answer to your question, there are a few more things you can do for your horse. For starters, keep him out on pasture full time. And to help clear his airways during transport, unload him from the trailer and allow him to graze at least every two hours. Better still, haul in him with two feet of slack in the tie so he can put his head down and cough. You might also try withholding hay when trailering and, instead, allowing him to graze 10 to 30 minutes after you arrive at your destination.

Why the Nosebleed?

Question: Two days ago, I came home to find my 29-year-old Standardbred mare hot and sweaty with blood trickling from one of her nostrils. My mule (who was out with her) was also a little sweaty and warm to the touch. Shortly afterwards, my mare cooled down and has seemed fine since. What would have made her nose bleed? I don’t believe my mule kicked her, as she is definitely the alpha of the two. She had no visible bites nor was any swelling evident on her face, neck or anywhere else. She has never bled before but I wondered whether I should be worried about this episode.

Answer: Keep an eye on your mare but don’t worry: Most nasal trickles are harmless, isolated occurrences, not harbingers of horrors to come. A routine case of bleeding from one nostril, especially after exertion, could have any of a dozen causes, the most innocent being a poke inside the nose with a sharp twig or hay stem. Exercise can also cause an equine nosebleed by raising the blood pressure enough to rupture already-weakened vessels near the surface.

On the other hand, recurrent bleeding from the same nostril is rarely innocent. Such bleeding has three primary causes:

  • a tumor in the nasal cavity or sinus
  • an ethmoid hematoma, a pocket of blood in the mucosal lining of the nasal passages that develops for unknown reasons
  • — a fungal infection in the guttural pouch that has weakened a wall of the carotid arteryEndoscopic examinations of all these chambers and passageways, together with radiographs of any suspicious areas, are necessary for a definitive diagnosis. However, from your description, I doubt any of these more serious conditions caused your mare’s nosebleed. The more time that passes before a second episode, the less likely that anything serious has happened. This article first appeared in the October, 2001 issue of EQUUS magazine.




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