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Disappointing news - heaves

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  • Disappointing news - heaves

    Last edited by S'mores; May. 19, 2018, 11:27 PM. Reason: Thanks for the responses. I have all the info I need

  • #2
    If this is a new development for him, especially given that everything in the trainer's barn was coughing, it may be that there was insufficient ventilation and/or dusty hay. Given careful management he may be fine. My old event horse lived out and never had an issue until he was kept in 24/7 post colic surgery at the equine hospital. Once he got home and could be put in an outside stall part of the day and have a Dutch door to hang his head out when inside the problem disappeared.


    • #3
      My gelding has heaves and it is controlled by soaking his hay (or steaming). He gets HistAll when he has a flare up. If that doesn't help, the vet will put him on Dexamethasone for ten days. So far, as long as the hay is soaked or steamed, he's fine.I also put him on a supplement for lung support. He has a stall attached to a paddock so he can go in and out at will. Barn is well ventilated, and bedding is pellets. Vet specifically mentioned no round bales, which I don't feed anyway. I really don't think hay cubes are necessary unless you can't get square bales. That is as long as you are willing to soak the hay.


      • #4
        I have a lovely gaited gelding with heaves. After trying lots of management situations and meds, here's what has him symptom-free, comfortable and able to perform completely at his prior wonderful capacity: He lives out 24/7, with a roof but no sides on his shelter (blanketed when appropriate). He gets absolutely NO "normal" hay, but does well on mixed grass hay cubes and pellets fed in a large low-sided ground pan. He eats Triple Crown Senior, soaked to a soupy mash, with 1 cup Triple Crown Golden Naturals (stabilized flax). He gets 1oz of Heave-Ho supplement added to his feed daily.
        Patience pays.


        • #5
          My almost 20yr old horse started showing signs of heaves almost four years ago.

          Keeping him fit is extremely important as it allows him to do things with less effort, which means less strain on his breathing. My guy is more affected in the summer. We initially had him on Prednisone, but had to stop that when he started Prascend for his Cushings. What has been working for the past two summers is hydroxyzine antihistamines and Omega Alpha's RespiFree. And work! The RespiFree loosens his mucus and allows it to drain out his nose more readily. Exercise does the same, and both together can be like turning on a tap!

          You'll have to figure out what works for your horse, but my vet told me to tell her sooner than later if something isn't working. The longer you allow the lungs to be inflamed the more scarring you get and that means permanently reduced lung function.

          Part of that means being "mean" to your horse. On those hot days when he's breathing hard our natural inclination is to leave him be because he's already working hard at breathing. I discovered, by accident and had it subsequently confirmed by my vet, that exercise opens up the lungs and eases breathing. I took my guy out for a hack and asked if he'd like to canter. "Yes! Faster!" And about three strides later he slowed down on his own because his breathing couldn't keep up. He kept cantering, just slower. We kept on with the hack, walking and trotting, and a bit later I invited him to canter again. He was just as keen to go faster and that time didn't have to slow down because the exercise had opened his airways and he could breathe better.

          I still use exercise on bad days to bring his breath rate down. Anything over 20 breaths per minute needs a ride. I have seen him go from 28bpm pre ride resting rate down to 14bpm post exercise recovery. I'm happy when I can get him down below 20. It seems like he just forgets he has greater lung capacity and is just breathing shallow, and the exercise opens things up and his body can keep the deeper, slower breathing going.

          I do pay attention to dust, staying out of dusty sand rings. Our winter arena is pretty good when it comes to dust, but I ride him alone to limit the dust as much as I can.

          I have seen the vet tell a fellow boarder there was nothing more they could do from a drug perspective, but the owner could help by getting the horse fitter. It's not a position I want to be in. So when I see my guy working to breathe I take him for a ride.


          • #6
            Excellent advice RedHorses!


            • #7
              Just a question but are you sure it’s the dust and hay? Since this all flared up while he was at the trainers could there be something there triggering it. I knew a horse that never had an issue than was moved to a show barn and broke out in hives. Then he was moved again because it got so bad and he was fine again. The stall he was in with hives wasn’t well vented but after testing the vet thought it was something else. It happened in the spring and she thought it could be something growing at the one barn that was bothering him.


              • #8
                My old gal lives out 24/7, free choice quality hay during the winter and pasture in summer, and gets Histall H, fish oil (because turmuric is more effective with oil), and smartbreathe from Smartpak. In the summer (Central Fl - hot and humid, the worst for heaves), 5cc Dex EOD...... SO far, so good. I always worry coming into the summer....

                Histall H is not expensive. WHy not try it for a month?


                • #9
                  Originally posted by Smoke View Post
                  I just got my 8 yr old gelding g back from 3 mos training. While in training the trainer mentioned he had been coughing and at first she thought perhaps it was a cold bug as some of her others had been coughing as well. However, the others stopped and he did not. She spoke to a vet about it and the vet recommended that since he didn't have a high temp that he should be put on square bales instead of rounds. After little to no improvement he was given dexamethasone and for the last few weeks she started giving him cubes and stopped riding him. he came back home last week and I took him over to the vet for an appointment as he is still coughing.

                  The vet listened to his lungs, took his temp, had me trot him around , he coughed after trotting and has white nasal discharge. She said that everything points to heaves/COPD/RAO but I have booked him in for a bronchial lavage(something like that) to get some samples from his lungs which will be sent for testing to confirm it is heaves and the severity , etc.

                  Vet advised dealing with heaves is two fold. One - managing his environment. Feed haycubes, definitely no round bales, keep dust to a minimum, best not to keep him in a stall , etc. Two - treatment of symptoms or flare ups. Oral, injection or thru an inhaler which is a little pricey at around $1000 but apparently is the most effective with least side effects.

                  I'm so disappointed and discouraged about this . I feel bad for my horse and I had been looking forward to riding him lots after his training, taking lessons, clinics , schooling shows, starting jumping .etc. Now I'm wondering if he'd be best as a trail horse so he's not exposed to the dust of arenas & because it's a performance limiting, chronic disease. Due to weather here most riding is indoors for about 7 months of the year. I'm worried about managing it because I don't have my own place to keep him and Im worried about the expenses.​​
                  Don't be discouraged -- at least not yet. COPD is often very manageable. Usually there is something in the environment, some allergens, that the horse is responding to that cause heaves. Minimizing dust and increasing ventilation are usually very helpful. If you can, consider switching your fellow from stall board to rough board. Hay soaking usually helps. As for medicines, an inhaler is expensive, and it can be a huge pain. The apparatus should be cleaned after each use. If you aren't at the barn each day, it may not get cleaned. Some horses object to the device being placed over their muzzle and it becomes a struggle to treat them. I would use an inhaler as a last resort.

                  A change in environment cannot be over-emphasized and is what has worked for us in the past. Don't discount the benefits of allowing the horse to live outside 24/7.


                  • #10
                    Don't be discouraged.
                    I had a 15yo TWH diagnosed with RAO/RAD. Started coughing when I rode, progressed to developing a visible heave-line & rales I could hear w/o a stethoscope.
                    He lived out pretty much 24/7 with access to a stall, hay was not overly dusty & barn had good ventilation.
                    Soaking hay & OTC anti-histamine supplements did not help so we started him on Clenbuterol(Ventipulmin) - ~$100+/month IIRC.
                    Googling showed me the corncob bedding I had switched to was linked to respiratory illness in dairy cattle from bacteria living in the bedding. My TB never showed any signs of a problem with the same bedding .
                    Along with the steroid treatment, I gradually replaced the bedding with pine pellets & in 3mos his lungs were so clear the examining vet claimed if he had not heard the lungs he never would have diagnosed RAO/RAD.
                    *friend of bar.ka*RIP all my lovely boys, gone too soon:
                    Steppin' Out 1988-2004
                    Hey Vern! 1982-2009, Cash's Bay Threat 1994-2009
                    Sam(Jaybee Altair) 1994-2015


                    • Original Poster

                      Originally posted by PrincessPonies View Post
                      Just a question but are you sure it’s the dust and hay? Since this all flared up while he was at the trainers could there be something there triggering it. I knew a horse that never had an issue than was moved to a show barn and broke out in hives. Then he was moved again because it got so bad and he was fine again. The stall he was in with hives wasn’t well vented but after testing the vet thought it was something else. It happened in the spring and she thought it could be something growing at the one barn that was bothering him.
                      Possible. If it was something at her place, how long would it take for the flare up to subside, I wonder


                      • #12
                        I have a pony with the occasional respiratory issue. He gets his inhaler (beclomethasone and albulterol) delivered to him through a small chamber device. It only cost about $80 iirc
                        for the chamber. The med itself is pricey, but works well. The gizmo is called an AeroHippus chamber. Last I knew their website was Aerohippus.com
                        It has a cup that fits over the nostril and you time giving a blast of the med to when they inhale. Pony adapted pretty easily to it.
                        My guy does pretty well. What bothers him the most is when the air quality is bad on the few really nasty/hot summer days.
                        Good luck with your horse, it might take some trail and error but usually a good treatment plan can be found.


                        • Original Poster

                          Question re: cubes

                          So far I've fed him Timothy alfalfa cubes (alfatec)

                          "Premium Timothy-Alfalfa Cubes
                          Made from a select blend of a minimum of 40% timothy and minimum 40% alfalfa, these cubes are used as a supplement or as a complete forage replacement."

                          Would you think these are ok for my horse who's in light work?

                          I think the straight alfalfa cubes would be too rich but 40% should be good?

                          He's not a hard keeper but not a pony that gets really fat either .he's a good weight right now IMO


                          • #14
                            Smoke- I HIGHLY recommend building a hay steamer. A few years ago my FEI horse developed RAO in the spring after vaccinations. Started as a cough that would escalate to wheezing and the typical heavey forced exhale. I began to seriously question his future as a riding horse, and his quality of life in general. The only thing that helped him was Dex. 2 years ago it was so bad that he went on a round of Dex about every 6 weeks or so. He's on pasture 16 hours a day and in a wide open well ventilated barn at night with non-dusty shavings. Soaking hay did nothing for him. January of 2017, DH built me a hay steamer based on google pictures. I've been using it ever since and in that time precious horsey needed a round of Dex only once, again in the spring. I've replaced the wallpaper steamer maybe 3 or 4 times and it's a minor inconvenience but has been totally worth it. He is also on Respire from Horsetech, which I also recommend. He's only 13 and works very hard and this cheapo steamer has changed our lives.


                            • #15
                              So sorry you’re going through this OP. I had an older leadline pony with heaves, that came to us late in life. I spent s lot of time and energy researching it, and trying things to make her comfortable... eventually we put her down. But she was in AWFUL shape and in her 20s, and heaves plus Cushings made management very challenging (it limited our ability to use Dex in emergencies due to founder risk).

                              With that said, getting an early diagnosis and taking proactive management steps is the best thing you can do for your guy. Left unmanaged... he will end up with scarred airways (as another poster mentioned) and that’s not good.

                              I did feed a lot of soaked hay cubes to my pony and love them. Feeding some soaked hay from square bales too is good, the pellets were a labor saver.

                              I did use an aerohippus inhaler for the pony... it’s AWESOME. Unfortunately, in her case her airways were so scarred it wasn’t effective at controlling emergency flare ups. I think it’s a great option for a horse when initially diagnosed though and worth the investment.

                              I also invested in allergy testing and custom shots. That might be something to chat about with your vet. I found antihistamines completely ineffective... supplements too. Like the aerohippus inhaler, I think the allergy shots are an awesome option if you catch heaves in the early stages. Some people have reported remission after these alone.

                              Good luck - be glad you identified this in the early stages and are willing to work to figure out how to manage it successfully. That’s a gift to your horse :-)


                              • #16
                                FWIW - You can also give albuterol in pill form. Its not as fast acting for emergencies, but it is WAY cheaper. I just pop two pills in my mare's mouth and she doesn't fight them.

                                She usually shows relief in about 10 minutes.


                                • #17
                                  If you treat it aggressively with some kind of steroid like Ventipulim you can get the lung tissue inflammation to go down sooner. That hack I mentioned occured one spring when he was having breathing issues far earlier than usual. The vet was surprised he was willing to gallop when she listened to his lungs. She put him on an expectorant and Ventipulim to help him clear his lungs. She warned me several times that his coughing would initially get worse then improve.

                                  The purpose being to clear everything out asap and allow healing and limit scarring.

                                  Now with my guy I was sort of expecting that he would develop heaves because his mum died from her heaves and we have no idea what role, if any, genetics plays in this disease. I have also boarded with friends who had heavey horses and learned something about dealing with it in our environment.

                                  One friend fed her horse timothy hay cubes, but the horse was just a light hacking horse and not in any real work. The alfalfa Timothy mix would probably be good for a working horse.

                                  There often is a specific allergen trigger - I knew one that was pretty well cured when the barn started using chopped straw bedding instead of shavings. They used to take straw to away shows for him.

                                  Don't be afraid of a cough. Mine will usually cough once or twice at the beginning of our trot work. If he does more than that I worry. But as exercise opens their airways and forces deeper breathing that can trigger a cough reflex. As long as it doesn't continue. I find that if I keep my guy trotting when he coughs he gets past it faster. If he really wants to stop I let him as that usually means it's not just the deeper breath cause. I do find that if he has several days off he will cough more the first ride back.

                                  One thing you can do is monitor his breath rate. Check before you ride, when you're done, and 10min after. The numbers will give you concrete assurance of better, worse, or the usual. I count breaths every day in the summer when I'm deciding on a ride.


                                  • #18
                                    We fed Lucerne Farms Dengie to our guy with heaves. We used inhaled steroids for months but I don’t think it was worth the cost. Dengie, a well ventilated stall, an occasional dose of Ventipulmin and an occasional couple of days of oral dexamethasone, kept our guy going for 17 years after his diagnosis. He did dressage through 4th level with my daughter. If he went near Timothy hay or straw, he would cough.


                                    • #19
                                      Good advice here. My only comment is to be very careful with the Dex. You don't want founder issues.

                                      And, yes, heaves can be managed.
                                      Show me your horse and I will tell you who you are.


                                      • #20
                                        There's lots of different terms for breathing issues, Recurrent Airway Obstruction, Severe Equine Asthma, etc, which may be why certain things work for some over others. My vet said to dose Dex as low as is effective. It turned out a relatively low starting dose usually caught my horses right away. My vet has also been very impressed with the positive effect of steaming hay, he is now recommending that to his clients and some have contacted me about details. I'm not sure why it's not more common in this country because it has been so effective for my horse.
                                        Things that had no effect whatsoever on my horse include: soaking hay, albuterol syrup, aeohippus and ventolin inhaler, cough free.
                                        You may need to experiment to find what triggers your horse, look at all aspects of his life that include dust, mold, pollen etc. I sincerely hope you get to the bottom of it and can find your horse some relief. Best of luck!