EQUUS Pop Quiz: What’s the best way to help a horse with heaves?

Recurrent airway obstruction (RAO), commonly called heaves, is a serious allergy-induced respiratory disorder. Left untreated, RAO worsens progressively, making breathing more and more of a struggle for the horse, even when he’s standing still. Which of the following options is considered the most effective RAO treatment?

a. wetting the horse’s hay

b. medication, such as inhaled steroids

c. keeping the horse outdoors 24 hours a day on pasture only

d. progressive exercise to strengthen the lungs

The answer:

c. Permanently removing heavey horses from indoor barn environments is the most reliable and effective treatment for RAO. Continuous turnout with a diet consisting of grass only or dust-free hay cubes has been proven more effective than nearly every medication regime, including steroids. Wetting a horse’s hay is a traditional horseman’s treatment, but it’s likely to help only those horses with mild coughs resulting from temporary irritation rather than RAO sufferers. Mild exercise may improve the breathing of heavey horses while they’re moving, but too much activity can worsen their condition.