Horse Cough: Causes and Treatment

Horse cough is a common respiratory issue affecting horses of all ages and breeds. Causes include allergies, dust, and mold.

A frequent respiratory ailment affecting horses of all ages and breeds includes horse cough. It may involve a minor, infrequent irritation or a severe and ongoing problem, depending on the reason. Equine enthusiasts and caretakers must know the causes, symptoms, and available treatments for horse cough.

Allergies, dust and mold in the surroundings, respiratory illnesses, and even dental issues might all form causes of horse cough. Finding the root cause is essential to managing the condition and providing appropriate care. Horse cough symptoms might include a dry, hacking cough, nasal drainage, shortness of breath, and decreased tolerance to activity. These symptoms may have a significant effect on a horse’s general health and performance.

The course for treatment for horse cough varies according to the severity and underlying reason. These might include dietary changes, medication (such as bronchodilators or antibiotics), and controlling the environment. A clean bedding system and sufficient ventilation are two aspects of proper stable management that may help lower the incidence of respiratory problems. Effective medical management of horse cough needs regular veterinarian care and consultations. Horse owners may contribute to the better and more pleasant lives of their equine companions by treating the underlying problem and giving them the proper care.

What Does Horse Cough Mean?

Horse Cough

In horses, coughing serves as a typical clinical symptom of many different disorders. It appears in horses of any age or breed. The respiratory system’s attempt to clear material out of the trachea and upper airways is what causes coughing.

Horses’ Coughing Symptoms

Coughing might happen when you first start exercising, and that’s okay. Chronic coughing during activity or even at rest is a sign of a more severe illness or inflammation. Certain horses may cough as they feed or if they continuously stall. Coughing may occur during a strenuous trailer trip or after interacting with fresh horses.

It’s advisable to confine your horse and contact your veterinarian for a check-up if they cough more often than a few times during activity or show any other symptoms like fever, tiredness, or a runny nose.

Horses’ Coughing Causes

Horses' Coughing Causes

While some coughing causes are a result of inflammatory processes, others are transmissible between horses.


Infections with germs or viruses or intake during a choking episode may cause this. For foals less than six months old, the most common cause of pneumonia is streptococci.

Respiratory viruses, including influenza

Like in humans, respiratory viruses in horses often cause cough, fever, and nasal discharge. They are also typically exceptionally infectious. Depression, a reduction in appetite, or leg edema (swelling) have additional possible symptoms. Infection is more frequent in younger horses, and outbreaks are readily possible in settings where these horses gather, such as during races, exhibitions, and auctions. After exposure, horses may begin to exhibit symptoms as soon as one or two days later. Additionally, these horses become susceptible to concomitant secondary bacterial infections.


Heaves, formerly known as Recurrent Airway Obstruction, is a chronic illness that resembles asthma in people.

Disease of the Inflammatory Airways (IAD)

IAD is comparable to heaves, although it usually affects younger horses and doesn’t include increased breathing effort or rate when at rest. When an allergen such as mold or dust triggers irritation, the lungs repeatedly get a rush of white blood cells and inflammatory mediator cells, which in turn produces inflammation. Heaves may develop from IAD in later years if treated.

Insect parasites

Ascarids may cause lung injury in foals. Lung infection in people is uncommon. However, it may happen mostly from lung infection infected donkeys. The body’s reaction to the foreign invaders might result in irritation and lung damage from these worms.

How Veterinarians Identify Horse Coughing

During a comprehensive physical examination, your veterinarian will use a stethoscope to listen to the animal’s lungs for crackles and wheezes, which might indicate fluid accumulation or inflammation. They could also do a “rebreathe” test, which is covering your horse’s nostrils with a bag for thirty to forty-five seconds. Your horse will take several deep breaths upon removing the bag, which will provide improved auscultation. Infection will also result in an increase in white blood cells, which is another reason to check a complete blood count (CBC). Additional diagnostic tests might be:


It is helpful in looking for indications of lung inflammation. Due to their tiny stature, foals have it much easier, but older horses may have persistent bronchial inflammation, which is usually a sign of heaves.


It is able to detect the presence of abscesses, regions of condensation, or fluid in the lungs.

PCR tests 

Are specialist laboratory tests that employ a nose swab sample to detect influenza and other common respiratory infections?


It entails passing a scope through the nose and into the upper airways to check for foreign things, masses, or inflammation. The area has a tiny camera on the end.

Washing the trachea (TTW) 

It is a test that involves making a tiny hole in the trachea and inserting a small tube into it to reach the lower trachea. After being released, saline will be recovered. We’ll analyze the sample to identify the germs causing pneumonia.

BAL, or bronchoalveolar lavage 

It entails inserting a tiny tube into the airway, nose, and first branches of the lungs. After being released, saline remains recovered. We will analyze the sample to look for bacteria or blood vessels, which might indicate inflammation from IAD/heaves.

How to stop your horse from hacking

stop your horse from hacking

Use these brief suggestions to lower your horse’s risk of developing any respiratory illnesses:

1 Think about the bedding you use for horses.

How often do you take away the wet sheets, and is your bedding dust-free? If it’s shavings, you want to clean it only sometimes since the moisture keeps the dust from collecting. Consider looking at nearly dust-free alternatives to straw if your horse is prone to dusty bedding.

Additionally, it would be best if you were scrubbing your horse in the stable. For ten minutes, tie them up outdoors or place them in a separate stable. When you return your horse to their stable, don’t clean the area surrounding them either. There will be dust in the air. Instead, let new bedding settle in.

2 Soak or boil the hay.

If you want to prevent your horse from breathing in dust, soak the hay for five minutes. Additionally, after washing, you should give it to your horse right away. Drinking grass in the morning and giving it to them at night has become a standard error that many individuals make. This is almost as bad as not soaking it at all since the hay provides the ideal growing habitat for bacteria as it lies there all day, slightly moist.

3 Examine a steamer for hay.

Scientific research has shown that boiling hay eliminates all dust spores, hence mitigating respiratory issues. The traditional technique of damping down the spores involves soaking them. Also, the grass dries up when fed to a horse via a haynet, which encourages the spores to start flying again.

4 Verify that there is enough ventilation

Your horse’s stable should be away from the hay or straw area with plenty of airflow. By checking for webs, you can determine how well-ventilated your stable is. Since spiders dislike airflow,  use a little air if they’re sharing your stable.

Horses maintained in barns should always have access to a steady flow of fresh air via the main barn entrance. Defy your impulses and keep your eyes open if the window in your horse’s stable is outside. Shu-closing will result in less ventilation, which makes it more worrying than the windy and wet weather.

5 Refrain from sweeping your equine.

Refrain from sweeping your equine.

Everyone enjoys having a tidy yard, but each time you mow your horse, you’re putting dust in the air. Hold off on getting the broom until your horse leaves the stable. It’s better to have some dirt on the ground than to have inflamed lungs.


Horse cough is a common respiratory issue affecting horses of all ages and breeds. Causes include allergies, dust, mold, respiratory illnesses, and dental problems. Symptoms include a dry cough, nasal drainage, shortness of breath, and decreased tolerance to activity. Treatment varies based on severity and underlying cause, including dietary changes, medication, and environmental control. Proper management includes a clean bedding system and sufficient ventilation. Horse cough can be caused by asthma, respiratory viruses, heaves, Inflammatory airway disease (IAD), and insect parasites. Regular veterinarian care and proper care can help improve the lives of horses.

Veterinarians identify horse coughing through a comprehensive physical examination, which may include a stethoscope, radiography, sonography, PCR tests, endoscope, washing the trachea (TTW), and BAL (bronchoalveolar lavage). To prevent hacking, consider dust-free bedding, soaking or boiling hay, inspecting a steamer for grass, ensuring adequate ventilation, and refraining from sweeping your horse. Regularly cleaning bedding, ensuring the stable is away from hay or straw areas, and maintaining fresh air are also important. Additionally, avoiding sweeping your horse can help prevent inflamed lungs and prevent the spread of diseases.

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