Inflammatory Airway Disease in Horses

July 13, 2009 (published) | May 20, 2013 (revised)

Inflammatory airway disease decreases performance and this may be the only symptom noted in a horse. The disease is usually due to inhaling pollen, antigenic material, dust, and noxious gases such as ammonia that are prevalent in horse stables. Treatment of inflammatory airway disease, or IAD, is initially a change in management. The more time these horses can spend out of the stable the better. Also, changing the stall bedding from straw or hay to wood shavings can really make a difference. I know most people feed hay but this is a real problem for horses with IAD and soaking hay can help but steaming the hay is better. Chopped hay is an excellent option for these horses but it's expensive. Complete feeds are available that do not require any other roughage and these can be used as well as alfalfa pellets and alfalfa cubes.

Horses that do not completely respond to management changes can be treated with inhaled cortisone. By inhaling the drug, the horse gets the benefits in the respiratory tract but does not have the side effects cortisone can cause when given by injection. The disadvantages are the cost of inhaled medication is significantly more in the long run than injectable and it may be difficult for some horses as a face mask is involved. Dexamethasone is the most effective injectable medication and is inexpensive. Prednisolone may also be given orally and is effective but it is a concern using injectable or oral cortisone in horses that are susceptible to laminitis or founder. Bronchodilators like clenbuterol can also be used short term but should only be used with anti-inflammatories. If you have a horse that has decreased performance, talk to your vet about inflammatory airway disease.

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