Step one in managing a respiratory-tract problem is to get an accurate diagnosis. And, because the symptoms of cough, fever and mucus production overlap considerably with different issues, it’s not simple. For example, the horse with difficulty breathing and cough on exercise could have anything from an anatomical or neurological throat problem to pneumonia or allergic lung disease. These call for different treatment approaches, and it’s important that you know exactly what you are dealing with. Once your veterinarian has made a diagnosis, you can consider treatment options.
If your horse has a fever, you can be assured he has an infection/inflammation of some sort. Once an infection takes root, it’s important to maintain an adequate intake of antioxidant and immune-support nutrients (see chart on page 3) in addition to whatever your veterinarian might prescribe.
These nutrients will help your horse’s body produce the defenses it needs to protect itself from further damage. They allow the immune system to produce the body’s natural counterbalances to inflammation, and they help to minimize infections by protecting the white blood cells. Ingredients in the immune-stimulating category are better used as preventatives.
Although there’s not a lot of equine-specific research available, we do know that echinacea, the ginsengs, astragalus and pau d’arco directly stimulate one or more arms of the immune system.
Spirulina can improve the levels of IgA antibody along mucosal surfaces. Beta-glucans act a little differently. These are fermentable plant carbohydrates, also present in oats and, in lower amounts, hay.
They both protect the intestinal tract and also have a systemic effect by being gentle stimulants of the immune tissue lining the intestinal tract and also a food for beneficial organisms in the intestines that do the same thing.
A cough is a common symptom. Causes range from infections, to allergy, to noninfectious inflammation (RAO is recurrent airway obstruction, aka ”heaves”) to chronic throat irritations from excessive lymphatic tissue irritation (young horses, similar to human tonsillitis) or cold/dry air or irritant chemicals. When throat irritations are involved, soothing ingredients can provide temporary relief by coating irritated surfaces or fighting inflammation.
Aromatic ingredients can help block irritation directly and may help cough suppression by easing bronchial spasm. However, studies have found paradoxical worsening of spasm when used in high concentrations and in individuals with allergic lung disease, so this effect should always be considered. Products with these ingredients should be discontinued if the horse does not improve or gets worse.
Mucus is a problem with all respiratory-tract irritations, infectious or not. Seeing mucus at the nose at least means it’s moving out. Many more horses have difficulty breathing because of mucus that is accumulated in their lungs. Kelp is included in some supplements because iodine is excreted into mucus, dragging water with it and making the mucus thinner. However, this effect requires doses of iodine higher than would be present in kelp.
If your horse needs the mucus thinned, your veterinarian can treat him with intravenous sodium iodide or oral potassium iodide. Capsaicin hot teas are recommended in some herbal texts for opening the nasal passages and thinning mucus, but capsaicin inhaled can be a potent cough and bronchospasm trigger.
Bronchospasm causing elevated respiratory rate, difficulty breathing and wheezing may occur with both infectious and noninfectious problems. Since inflammation typically triggers bronchospasm, plant and nutrient antioxidants and jiaogulen can help prevent the problem. For reversing bronchospasm, some Chinese herbs, including Angelica sinensis, are used in combinations.
Products were field-trialed over a year, with a variety of common infectious (viral) and noninfectious problems. Horses with conditions involving their lungs, either viral infections or RAO, had lung sounds evaluated by stethoscope daily.
Because powders can irritate respiratory tract members, all powdered or loose herb products were mixed into two cups of warm water before being added to meals. This may also have helped with release of water-soluble active components. No medications were used for two weeks before supplementation periods, or during them. With the exception of acute viral infections, symptoms had been stable for at least two weeks prior to starting supplementation.
For immediate temporary relief of all dry coughs, we’ll go with Su-Per Wind.
For coughs also associated with mucus production, both Wind Aid and Resprun gave rapid results. Wind Aid is less expensive, while Resprun is a once-daily treatment.
For horses with RAO or exercise-induced cough and slow recovery of respiratory rates, we like Hemo Cease and Spirulina, which has the most rapid effect. Citrus C/Q and Bio-Quench tie for best buy.
Eleanor Kellon, VMD