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COPD / Heaves

What Is It?

  • Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) or “heaves” is a respiratory disease of horses resulting in signs of chronic coughing, decreased exercise tolerance, difficulty breathing and abnormal lung sounds. Difficulty in breathing occurs when susceptible horses are exposed to moldy feeds or dusty conditions.

  • COPD can be the result of an allergic response that occurs following exposure of the lower airways to dust and molds, particularly those that come from poorly cured hay. COPD occurs most frequently in horses kept in stables. 

  • Common risk factors for the occurrence of clinical signs are exposure to poorly cured, moldy or dusty forages, confinement to a stable environment, inadequate stable ventilation, straw bedding and age (6 years or older).


Dietary and Management Recommendations

  • Remove the animal from the environment that appears to be causing the problem and reduce exposure to dust and molds. Horses suffering from acute signs of COPD experience substantial remission of clinical signs one to three weeks after being moved to a dust-free environment and fed cubed roughage or haylage (fermented hay).

  • Keep susceptible horses in the open air. Many owners are reluctant to keep horses outside during cold weather but there is ample evidence to show that horses do very well in cold, dry climates when they are in good body condition and given adequate nutrition, plenty of clean water, access to salt, a good windbreak and overhead shelter.

  • Horses with COPD that are kept indoors require well ventilated stalls bedded with shredded paper, peat or high quality shavings.

  • Minimize/eliminate dust and mold in the diet by utilizing feeds that reduce or eliminate the amount of hay in the diet, including complete feeds and feeds with beet pulp as a source of highly digestible fiber.

  • As required, feed only high quality hay, hay cubes or chopped forage products. Soak hay in water prior to feeding to minimize dust. Placing feed at the ground level also may assist in draining inflammatory exudates collected in the trachea.


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