Help my horse has a cough!

Published : 2022-02-28 - Categories : Blog


I have written about hay VS haylage before and about the fact that people tend to feed haylage when their horse coughs because haylage contains less dust. If you have read the article then you now understand a bit more about the negative effects that haylage can have on your horse`s health.

Nowadays many horse have a chronic cough, allergies, heaves. Vets usually use the term COPD ( Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease ). But is this really the case? The more important question is `Where is the cough coming from` and how did it arise?

Most horse owners think that when their horse coughs that it is a problem in the lungs. And mostly this is the case, but it is usually situated in the upper respiratory tract, so paranasal sinuses, ethmoid bone or larynx. You will find pathogens here that can lead to chronic infections. They can cause inflammation of the respiratory mucous membranes.

When the larynx is swollen and inflamed a vet will usually conclude that it is a dust allergy. But this does not have to be the case. Most horses are not allergic to dust, but the dust just triggers the cough.

The inflamed larynx can be a result of inflamed paranasal sinuses. This needs to be treated first before we proceed any other therapeutic treatment. And instead of using antibiotics you could get an equine cranio sacral therapist or kinesiologist to treat the horse. The use of antibiotics can actually make the whole situation worse.



Most people don’t know that the large intestine and respiratory tract are connected. Traditional Chinese medicine say that when there is a disturbance in the intestine then there is a disturbance in the lungs.

When the large intestine has a disturbance and inflammation going on then the intestinal mucosa and liver are overloaded, they need to work extra hard to get rid of endotoxins. In order to do this the body often uses Sulphur to excrete these toxins ( but also zinc, selenium or manganese ) and this leads to a deficiency in Sulphur.

Sulphur is needed to produce cysteine and cysteine is needed to make a mucus layer in the respiratory tract. If this layer isn’t there then this leads to dry airways and germs can easily settle there.

Feeding haylage can lead to a lower pH and disturbance in the gut. So when you feed haylage the horse might not cough anymore because the dust stimulus is missing. But the internal problem is still there and these horses usually develop heaves or asthma. By feeding haylage you are suppressing the symptoms and not solving the underlying issue.



So how can you determine if your horse has inflammation in the airways or if it has an allergy?

You can find this out by feeding wet hay. When you feed this and the horse does not cough then this usually means it’s inflammation in the airways.

So find out why it has chronic inflammation in the airways and target this.

If the horse still keeps coughing when it is on wet hay then it’s usually an allergy. Because when you wet the hay the mould still throws out spores and they trigger the allergy. For those horses you need to steam the hay. You then kill the mould.



1.       Improve the diet and get the gut healthy again. At the horse therapist we also work with a colon rehabilitation program to get the gut healthy again.

2.       Be careful with feeding pre and pro biotics. These can also effect the hind gut negative when there is already a disturbance present. ( I will write a separate article about this )

3.       Support the horse with herbs that help and support the respiratory tract. The Horse Therapist can put together a custom made herb mix for your horse.

4.       Support the immune system. Herbs can help with this but also Bee pollen and spirulina powder

5.       Get your horse tested for KPU ( Kryptopyrroluria ) I will write a separate article about this. We provide this laboratory test @ The Horse Therapist

6.       Feed steamed or wet hay and DO NOT FEED HAYLAGE

7.       Don’t use straw in the stable because it can contain mould

8.       Make sure there is good ventilation in the stables

9.       Clean stables so there is less ammonia smell. The ammonia effects the airways

10.   Leave the horse outside when your cleaning the stables. Or preferable leave the horse outside 24/7 if possible



This is just a short version of how a chronic cough can arise. If you would like to learn more about it or if you have a horse with a chronic cough and you want to find out where it is coming from and need help getting your horse healthy again then please contact us @ The Horse Therapist – Vital horse care.



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