COPD – Prevention & Maintenance

In following up with my recent post about COPD in Horses, I wanted to share what I have done to keep Shady’s COPD at bay.

Environment and forage are two main considerations when managing a horse with COPD.  The best situation for a horse with this issue is to live outside.  In most cases, like mine, this isn’t always possible.  If they must be stalled for part of each day, take a good look at ventilation.  In the summer, make sure the stall has some air flow – open the window, hang a fan, put up a stall guard, etc.  Keep the stall as clean as possible as ammonia from urine can trigger symptoms.  If the bedding is dusty at all, wet it down.  Keep in mind that the majority of the time a horse is in their stall their heads are down – eating, laying down, etc.  They don’t need to breathe in dust that is being kicked up from their bedding.  Also, ammonia is fairly heavy and tends to stay close to the ground.

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Note the “slatted” appearance to these stall fronts – this allows for better airflow and helps allow the ammonia to escape.  Solid stall doors and fronts prevent the heavy gas and dust from easily escaping.

I’ll never forget the cold day in March when I stepped out of my car to see Shady, standing in her paddock, coughing.  She looked miserable.  We had been soaking her hay already, but clearly more drastic action needed to be taken.  My first plan of action was to take away her hay and get her some Ventipulmon.  This is a bronchodilator that works by dilating the bronchioles, bringing inflammation down and making it easier for her to breathe.  It is an oral medication prescribed by a vet.  She took it for many days and then was slowly weaned off of it.

Secondly, I needed to get her off of the barn hay.  Upon further inspection the new batch of hay we had just gotten in had mold spores.  Mold spores cannot be killed or neutralized by soaking.  Not wanting to take any chances, I went out and got chopped hay.  The chopped hay, or dengi as it is more commonly known, is high temperature dried, a process that kills mold spores and other fungus.  It is then lightly mixed with a low sugar molasses which makes the bale dust free.  I got her a wide, shallow bucket for her dengi, that kept it from being on the ground or getting mixed in with her shavings in her stall.  I bought her several 5 gallon buckets with lids so I could make up her hay for the day, labeling each meal to make it easy for the barn staff.  Although it is rare for young horses to develop COPD, I did the same for Indy.  I wanted to make sure he was getting good quality hay and not take any chances.

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Shady and Indy share their dengi.  I got them this bucket to keep it off the ground and slightly cleaner!  I feed her as much as I can at ground level to help keep dust and allergens out of her nasal cavity and allow any secretions to drain from her lowered head.

In one report I read it was noted that dusty hay is the most common cause of COPD in horses – a link that was established over 400 years ago.  So why is this still an issue?

I think there are a lot of factors contributing to poor hay quality.  Loss of land is an obvious one.  Transportation costs are always rising, so not being able to buy local hay increases costs quite a bit.  Storage is always an issue; not just having storage space to keep a big order of hay but also making sure it is properly stored and won’t get wet or be in direct sun.  Then there is the cost of hay and board costs. Sadly, barn owners are being forced to cut costs and all too often they cut corners on nutrition.

Back to COPD – what can owners do to keep their horses breathing well?  It is hard when you board and have very little control over the hay supply.  In my case, I took the time to meet with the barn manager, show her the issue, and then meet with all the barn staff.  I showed them what moldy hay looked like as well as good quality hay.  I provided them with a bucket to make soaking as easy as possible and explained the process.  I only have them soak the hay for 15-30 minutes.  For Shady, I’m not soaking to lower NSC, just to reduce any dust.  To me, education is very important and this has been key in managing my horse’s hay.  I also keep a close eye on the hay supply and if anything looks suspicious I bring it to the staff’s attention.

Steaming the hay is another option, though not one for me at the moment.  Hay steamers are a little pricey for me currently, but would actually make the barn efforts easier, especially in the winter.  Steaming is a high temperature process that kills spores and wets the hay, making it safe and dust free.  Seeing as how this condition is something I will have to manage for the rest of Shady’s life, I imagine a hay steamer in my future.

There are numerous supplements out there for respiratory issues, and I have tried many.  I found a lot that don’t work, some that do (but aren’t easy to get your horse to eat!) and I finally found one that really impressed me.  I used Cavalor Bronchix Pure during a bad flare up and the next day I noticed a significant positive difference.  Plus, Shady likes it and eats it all out of her grain.  It supports both the upper and lower respiratory tracts and is a safe, herbal blend.  It also acts as an immune booster, another important benefit to have.  I use it on her for about 2 weeks if I hear her cough at all.  It is safe for her to stay on it, but she isn’t that bad so I only use it as needed.  I keep one on hand at all times, just in case.  It is also FEI legal so I can show her on it.

Another supplement I keep Shady on is Cavalor OilMega.  I had originally put her on this when she was pregnant with Indy.  The purpose then was actually quite similar – high amounts of Omega 3 fatty acids.  Many of our commercial diets are high in Omega 6 fatty acids.  Omega 6 actually promotes the inflammatory response in the body.  Omega 3 helps prevent inflammation.  I had put her on it originally to help with swelling caused by her Lyme disease; now I like the anti-inflammatory properties to help keep her airways unrestricted.  As a bonus there is also a good amount of Omega 9s, which are just starting to be noticed for their benefits, as well as a high amount of natural Vitamin E, which not only provides muscle support, but is an anti-oxidant as well.

Soaking her grain is another option I could do to help, however with the oil poured over it I have found that I do not need to.  Her grain was also specially chosen to help with her airway – it contains added herbs that are known to help open the airways and improving the oxygen supply.

Being at the barn everyday and keeping on top of things isn’t always a viable solution for everyone.  I realize that not everyone can do this, nor does everyone want to.  I would recommend starting by voicing your concerns to the manager/owner and perhaps that is all you need.  If your barn is unwilling to acknowledge or correct the issue, it may be time to relocate.  COPD is not reversible!

When I’m at the barn at night I like to have their doors open to help encourage airflow.  Here is Indy experiencing his first stall guard.

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