Respiratory diseases in horses - interesting facts

Healthy lung function is very important for the horse as an active animal. In fact, many riding horses are affected by respiratory diseases such as COPD or COB. A horse's cough should immediately set off alarm bells. Quick action is required to avoid chronic bronchitis, which puts the animal out of action again and again.

We show you the forms of the disease, offer tips and hopefully shed some light on the subject.

Respiratory diseases at a glance:

Disease pattern of COPD (Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease / COB (chronic obstructive bronchitis).

In most cases, COB in horses (formerly also known as damping-off) is preceded by acute bronchitis. Triggered by viruses or bacteria, the horse's cough takes a lot out of the animal. Considerable mucus is produced. The self-cleaning mechanism of the lungs is no longer able to help itself. Mucolytics have to be put into the horse! The already irritated mucous membranes are very vulnerable in this condition. Further infections cannot be ruled out.

Horses kept in boxes/stalls are more affected than "outdoor horses". Ammonia gases, dust and mould spores are simply more harmful to the respiratory tract in enclosed spaces. Understandable for you, isn't it?

For a few years now, however, the terms COPD and COB have no longer been used in this way. The new terms for lung problems are: RAO (Recurrent airway obstruction) and IAD (Inflammatory airway disease). You can equate RAO with asthma in humans. It is very much based on allergens as described above. It can even be triggered by pollen.

So don't forget: COPD in horses and COB in horses are actually RAO and you will be able to find more about them on the web by now.

What is the difference between RAO and IAD?

The causes of IAD are described as immunodeficiency, allergic processes and infections by viruses. Young horses are often affected. The horse's cough mainly manifests itself during exertion and results in an enormous drop in performance. The animals can recover completely with appropriate treatment.

IAD Symptoms:


-typical is a decrease in performance

-nasal discharge is slight to non-existent

-coughing on exertion

-the disease can also be almost asymptomatic

RAO is more "extensive". The mucous membranes of affected horses swell strongly and coughing spasms try to get rid of the tough mucus that accumulates. Breathing is significantly more difficult. Even at rest, an increased respiratory rate is measurable. In IAD horses, breathing is usually normal at rest.

RAO symptoms:


-nasal discharge

-regular, persistent coughing (initially on exertion or exposure to dust)

-high respiratory rate

-heavy mucus production

-flared nostrils

-noticeable abdominal breathing, in severe cases heave line visible


-drop in performance 

Examination in this regard:

First of all, the anamnesis is always in the foreground. You will be asked by the vet about the husbandry conditions, the feeding and the performance of your animal. This is followed by the clinical examination. Pulse, respiration, temperature and listening as well as tapping the lungs are the most important parts.

An allergy test may be considered and a blood test (arterial blood gas analysis).

A bronchoscopy can/must be done if the horse's cough cannot be controlled. The condition of the mucous membrane and the secretion produced will be determined more precisely. The veterinarian can also take samples (to be examined in the laboratory) to get a better insight into a possible lung disease (e.g. chronic bronchitis) and how to continue to treat it.

An X-ray or ultrasound might be necessary in case of a more difficult disease determination.

Treatment procedure:

The vet will first optimise the housing conditions. This means, for example, changing from straw to a less dusty bedding and/or feeding steamed hay. Mucolytics can be prescribed for horses, as well as respiratory dilating medication or an antibiotic. In very persistent cases, cortisone is used. Less commonly, a lung lavage is used.

He may well suggest inhalation with a horse inhaler. Inhalation has proven to be very helpful in human medicine and quickly shows relief in respiratory diseases. Chronic bronchitis can be slowed down very well with inhalation. But not only the COPD horse benefits from inhalation. This treatment is good for every "stable horse". Often the device can be borrowed. Smaller, manual devices are already available for purchase in specialised shops. By adding coughing herbs, horses can breathe much more freely.

There is even brine therapy for horses. Perhaps you have heard of it? This is also offered on a mobile basis. A specially converted horse trailer exhales salty sea air towards the horse like a giant inhaler. You don't have to drive your Hotti to the clinic. It can be done practically on the spot. This is inhalation on a grand scale!

If your vet has additional naturopathic training, he or she can give the horse a jump-start to self-healing with homeopathy for a mild cough or elicit the horse's own body powers with acupuncture and autohaemotherapy.

Of course, you can also consult a well-founded animal healer who will take a lot of time for your animal. If you have a horse with COPD, this makes sense in any case. Cough horse homeopathy - if anyone knows, it's him. Especially in case of respiratory diseases, the little pellets can do a lot. Animals respond very well to globules.

So you can do a lot of good for your darling yourself:

Every COB horse is happy about a change in the feed trough. Cough herbs give horses an extra portion of natural strength and support. Thyme, aniseed, Iceland moss and ribwort, for example, can be poured over hot water and simply added to the concentrated feed ration after about 20 minutes. They have an antispasmodic and expectorant effect and relieve chronic bronchitis. These herbs are also good for inhalation.

Likewise, a little black cumin oil will do the horse no harm at the slightest sign of a cough. The black cumin oil reaches horse with a boost of energy and immune defence, which it especially needs during this time. Tip: Always choose a cold-pressed oil without admixtures.

If your horse suffers from discomfort in the hall or in the arena, let him run in a meadow (ask the farmer first!) or in the countryside for a few days. There is much less dust and the exercise in the fresh air is beneficial for recovery.

Maybe you will find fellow sufferers in your environment who can help you with their experiences.