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Equine Heaves

May 30, 2008
Heaves. Even the name sounds icky. And if you are a horse owner who has had to deal with heaves, you know it's no day at the park.

What exactly are heaves? Heaves is basically another word for pulmonary emphysema, a condition in which the lungs can't be properly emptied of air due to the rupture of alveoli, which are tiny air sacks in the lungs. What happens is that the air that escapes the alveoli becomes trapped in the pockets between them. And this makes it difficult for the lungs to properly empty. While heaves is most often seen in horses older than five, it can be seen in younger horses who have had respiratory illnesses. While it's never been proven what causes the alveoli to rupture, theories include allergic reaction, exposure to dust or molds, chronic bronchitis, feeding of poor roughage for a long period of time, and overworking.

You'll know it if your horse has heaves! Heaves will start with a runny nose and cough, but will progress to the emphysema phase where your horse will experience obvious shortness of breath. Another clue that your horse has heaves is the use of his abdominal muscles to breathe after exercise. An attack of heaves can last just a few days or can persist a few weeks or more.

As heaves progresses coughing and difficulty breathing will become more severe, and you'll see further signs of heaves in the horse's respiratory muscles. For example, the abdominal muscles may become misshapen, and the nostrils may dilate. In very severe cases, the rectum may even protrude as the horse exhales. Rubbing sounds, called "rales," may also be present and are another sign that heaves has progressed.

If you notice that your horse has any of the symptoms of heaves, it's important to get your veterinarian out to the farm as soon as possible. Since heaves has symptoms similar to other respiratory diseases like pharyngitis and bronchitis, your vet will most likely ask a lot of questions about the horse's history in addition to looking at the physical signs.

While there is no real treatment that will "cure" heaves, there are a number of treatments that will keep the symptoms under control. Corticosteroids, antihistamines, bronchodilators, and nebulizers can all give your horse a little relief. Since dusty hay and allergies can cause and exacerbate heaves, hay should be clean and wetted to minimize dust before feeding, and legume hay, as well as round bales of hay that tend to be dustier than square, should be avoided. You may even want to put a horse with severe heaves on a hay-free diet, which is certainly possible considering the amount of complete feeds on the market today.

A horse with heaves should have plenty of clean, fresh air. If you have the proper facilities, consider moving your horse out of his stall and have him spend his days under the sun and his nights under the stars. In addition to being healthy for his respiratory system, time outside is also healthy for your horse's mental state. And a horse who is mentally healthy will heal faster than one who isn't!

For more great equine health information and treatments make sure to visit and bookmark our links below, so you can visit often!

Thanks
About the Author
Ron Petracek was raised in Southern Idaho with horses and the great outdoors. With this continued passion He now shares through a a vast equine network. Learn more by clicking the links below. Amazing Equine Network System - Buy Sell or trade anything equine related. Get More Horse Classified coverage and distribution with less cost and work. Award Winning Horse Forum.
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