Respiratory Diseases

Respiratory disease is a concern for many horse owners. There are many kinds of horse respiratory diseases, and some more serious than others. Chronic bronchitis, sore throat and nostril wounds are just some of the problems a horse can face in his life. There are many different ways to tell if your horse is suffering from these problems and to prevent them before they start.

The Many Faces of Respiratory Disease

The most important part of maintaining horse health is understanding the problems they can face. One disease horses can face is called nasal catarrh. Basically, it”s a head cold that causes their nasal membranes to become inflamed. It”s not one of the most serious diseases, but it”s usually a good idea to treat it quickly so the horse doesn”t develop a more serious problem.

Nasal polypus is another one. These are tumors that appear in the nose and cause a horse to have trouble breathing. These tumors are usually found in the horse”s false nostril.

Asthma, pneumonia and chronic cough are other respiratory diseases that affect horses.

Recognizing Horse Respiratory Diseases

As with any health problem, catching respiratory diseases early is important. The faster a problem is spotted, the more likely it is the horse will recover. Young horses are more likely to get a respiratory disease, so they should be watched even more closely.

If the horse has nasal catarrh (one of the most common one for a young horse), the mucus membrane will become irritated and dry. There will also be signs of congestion. Then, you”ll notice a watery discharge coming from the nostril, tears or a fever.

If your horse has a thick white or yellowish-white nasal discharge that seems to come and go, they might have chronic catarrh. This is one of the trickier horse diseases to diagnose because its symptoms can be similar to another problem called glanders. Other signs include enlarged glands under and between the bones of the lower jar and sometimes sores can be seen. Chronic catarrh also affects the eyes, making one smaller.

If you horse starts bleeding from the nose, be sure to check for tumors, especially if the horse displays difficulty breathing. Other symptoms of respiratory disease are coughing, difficulty swallowing, seizures the horse quickly recovers from after a coughing fit, loud noises when breathing and loss of appetite.

Stopping Horse Diseases Before They Start

There are many ways to keep your horse safe from respiratory disease. One of the most important is also the most overlooked: a clean environment. Many times, these diseases can be traced back to the condition of their stables.

Ventilation is important, because dirty air is a main cause of respiratory disease. Any ventilation system should be designed to get rid of air near the floor and let air in through the ceiling, since the air closest to the floor is the foulest. It”s also a good idea to make sure the stable is not too hot or drafty, since this can also make a horse sick.

Another way to maintain horse health is by making sure the stable is properly cleaned. Sometimes, stable hands and owners let manure accumulate or do not drain the area properly, making the air unsafe for the horse to breath. Air drying is also dangerous.

If your horse is sweaty or otherwise wet, it”s a good idea to use a towel to dry them instead of letting nature do it. Towels and blankets are also recommended for a cold horse instead of making the stable warmer. While doing these things won”t guarantee your horse will never get sick, they will definitely improve the odds.

Treating Horse Respiratory Disease

Even a perfectly maintained stable can”t keep every horse healthy. If you notice signs of respiratory disease, there are several things you can do to help nurse him or her back to health. The biggest thing is making sure the horse has plenty of high-quality food to eat along with fresh water. Soft foods like bran mashes, scalded oats and grass are especially good for a sick horse. While not the best for them, oats, hay and corn can be fed to a sick horse if they will not eat the softer foods.

Depending on your horse”s condition, you might want to adjust their manger or trough. Horses suffering from chronic catarrh need their feed boxes on the floor. If the horse is suffering from sore throat or laryngitis, it”s better to have the food at head level so the animal does not have to strain in any way to get to his food. The pain they feel when straining could keep them from eating at all and make the horse even sicker.

Chronic catarrh and sore throat can also be helped by steam and plenty of rest, just as when people are sick. Before you begin treating your horse, it”s usually a good idea to check with your vet so they can confirm a diagnosis and give you other treatment options.


Harbaugh, W.S, V.S; et al (2007). Diseases of the Respiratory Organs. Retrieved March 8, 2008, from the Project Gutenberg Web site: