Breathing is the process of taking air into and expelling it from the lungs. When a horse’s ability to breathe properly is disrupted there is a significant decrease in performance. Events that require quick bursts of speed utilize large amounts of oxygen. Two of the leading causes of breathing issues within performance horses are allergies and exercise-induced pulmonary hemorrhage (EIPH). Allergies have become commonly recognized as a culprit of poor respiratory health. Irritation and mucus in the airways can make breathing, especially at a run, difficult. EIPH, also known as bleeding, is the presence of blood in the airways and lungs following exercise. Bleeding can reduce a horse’s oxygen uptake resulting in decreased performance as soon as the bleeding begins. EIPH is also responsible for the development of chronic inflammatory airway disease.
What are allergies?
An allergy is an “overreaction” - when a horse’s body sees a substance as harmful and has a reaction to it, that substance is an allergen. Often time allergies do not present themselves until later in life.
Clinical signs include:
- Hair loss
- Snotty nose
- Watery eyes
While one or two allergens alone may cause a reaction, the more allergens a horse is exposed to the higher chance there is for a reaction to occur. Insects, dust, mold, weeds/grasses, and grooming products/equipment are the most common allergens for horses.
By limiting the number of allergens your horse is exposed to you can possibly prevent allergy flair-ups. Horses that become extremely irritated from insects may be suffering from hypersensitivity to the saliva from the insect bites. Using a feed-through fly product to help repel insects and prevent fly larvae from hatching in the manure can help decrease the overall fly population. Other steps like frequently spraying fly spray, providing fans, and using fly proof garments.
Dust and horses seem to go together. Watering barn alleys, increasing turn out time, wetting hay and providing well ventilated clean stalls are simple steps to eliminating dust. Be aware of the dust in warm-up areas, if it is excessive try to find a less dusty area to warm up. Mold can affect even the healthiest of horses. It can be hiding in your trailer, barn, and possibly hay. Deep cleanings in your trailer, stalls, and barn can help eliminate mold. Spring can be hard on horses with allergies as the pollen begins floating in the air and the weeds popping up in fields after each rainfall.
If your horse’s allergies seem to be seasonal you will need to reduce weeds in the fields and plan to stall your horse with a fan during peak pollen season. If you have recognized your horse to be in the sensitive category be sure to select products that only use natural ingredients. Dermatitis in areas where tack is placed may be signs your horse is allergic to the material used in your pad or boots. Try switching to a pad or boots made out of a different material.
What is exercise-induced pulmonary hemorrhage (EIPH)?
The increase of blood pressure to the lungs during intense exercise places pressure on pulmonary capillaries causing them to burst, which can lead to bleeding within the lungs. Some signs of bleeding include coughing after exercise, inability to return to normal breathing intervals a few minutes after a run, and decreased performance. Managing blood pressure can help in prevention and often times Lasix (a diuretic which aids in reducing blood pressure) is recommended for use in bleeders. Horses challenged with respiratory deficiencies may benefit from the addition of daily support for soft tissue in the lungs, a normal inflammatory response tissue repair, build the immune system, decrease inflammation, and promotes normal blood pressure.
Supplements that may Lend Support
Horses challenged with respiratory deficiencies may benefit from the addition of ingredients such as MSM, Spirulina, Hawthorne, Grape Seed Extract, N- Acetyl L-Cysteine (NAC), Vitamins A and K to support a natural inflammatory response, respiratory health and immune function.
Managing allergies and EIPH requires daily actions to help strengthen the airways and make breathing easier. The easier it is for a horse to breathe, the less strain there is on the lungs.