In our focus on various equine health issues, we will try to balance our approach between conventional veterinary wisdom and therapy while also adopting a holistic approach to our problem-solving. Where conventional therapy frequently targets the specific disease or ailment, in holistic medicine, we attempt to address the imbalances that exist to allow various conditions to develop.
In this issue, we will look at the horses` respiratory system. The horses` respiratory system is often the first line of defense against disease.
The Horses Respiratory System
Horses can be susceptible to a number of conditions that affect the respiratory tract. Some of the most common invaders or ailments include, Viral Infections e.g. Equine Influenza, Equine Herpes Virus. Bacterial Infections are e.g. Streptococcus equi, Rhodococcus equi. Parasitic Infections e.g. the lungworm Dictyocaulus arnfieldi. Allergies e.g. COPD. Exercise-Induced e.g. pulmonary hemorrhage EIPH.
What are the signs to look out for?
Coughing during exercise, when eating or at rest. If the condition is infectious your horse may have a temperature (normal 99.5-100.5F) and may appear depressed. Nasal discharge may be present, it may be clear initially becoming white and purulent. Increased respiratory rate, may exhibit signs of wheeziness. Exercise intolerant. Depressed appetite.
What should you do?
If an infectious cause is suspected isolate your horse from other horses, as it may be contagious. Phone your vet. Do not exercise your horse until it has been examined. If an allergy is suspected discuss the environmental changes that may be necessary with your vet. A guideline on Environmental Changes would be as follows. Only use best quality bedding materials preferably shavings or shredded paper. Feed the best quality hay available, soak overnight with water. Or use a hay alternative such as haylage. Ensure the stable ventilation is adequate. Keep the stable very clean paying particular attention to the walls and feed bowl. Remove any feed uneaten from the feed bowl as amounts left may grow molds. If the allergy problem persists, samples and swabs may be taken from your horses’ environment to identify the specific agent your horse may be allergic to. This will have to be arranged by your vet with a testing lab.
How can you prevent problems?
Ensure good stable management. Vaccination is available for equine influenza. Implement a regular and effective worming program. Remember if you have donkeys in the same field as your horse they can carry lungworm and show no signs. Worm the donkeys too! If new horses are coming into the yard, isolate them if possible for the first ten days as they may be incubating a respiratory disease.
Five-year-old Hunter, came down with a respiratory virus, off work two weeks, treated with antibiotics and anti-inflammatories, infection appears cleared but the horse still dull and lifeless. This is a frequently seen phenomenon in horses recovering from respiratory infections. Many horses post virus infections can experience a syndrome known as post viraemic syndrome where they often can have reduced white cell counts, have increased susceptibility to infections, are exercise intolerant, have dull and lifeless coats, and fail to return to pre-virus performance for a considerable period of time. By using conventional drugs we certainly can clear the existing infections but by approaching the case in a holistic way we examine the true state of the horse’s health. The horse’s energy state is very important in disease, if the energy is high they have more resistance to disease, this explains why some horses have increased susceptibility to infections. By energy I mean the horses vitality, which depends to a large part on its digestion system and diet. In cases of respiratory disease, I frequently use herbal medicine as an adjunct to therapy as herbs are selected to target several of the bodies systems involved in the disease. Herbs are selected to aid the clearing of infection and catarrh in the lungs. Also, herbs are selected to support the digestive system as in this way the horses` energy is restored. Herbs are selected that have immune boosting action. In this way, while treating the focus of the ailment, the lungs, I would not forget to treat the body as a whole and attempt to restore it to its fullest energy and capacity. In this way, the horse returns to full health quicker and with fewer setbacks. If the horse’s vitality is restored it should make a complete recovery.