Karla S. Rugh, DVM, Ph.D.
Heaves, aka chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) or recurrent airway obstruction (RAO)
What it is: A chronic allergic respiratory disease triggered by exposure to straw and/or hay, resulting in airway inflammation, mucus production and bronchoconstriction.
Symptoms: Coughing; nasal discharge; flared nostrils; increased respiratory rate; labored breathing with prolonged, labored expiration; a “heave line” on the barrel just below the ribcage, caused by overdevelopment of the abdominal muscles; exercise intolerance.
What to do: Call your veterinarian during regular clinic hours.
Outlook: This ailment can’t be cured, but it can be managed. A horse with heaves should be turned out as much as possible, preferably in a pasture. If this isn’t practical, he should be kept in an environment that is dust-free and well-ventilated as possible, away from straw and hay storage. Feeding a pelleted feed instead of hay will also help reduce symptoms.
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This article originally appeared in the 2012 issue of Horses USA. Click here to purchase the most recent issue.