The most common equine respiratory conditions are Heaves, Equine Influenza and Strangles.


Heaves is a non-infectious, chronic condition that is triggered by exposure to dust and mold that are commonly found in hay and straw in primarily older horses.

As the small airways become obstructed and blocked the horse has to work harder to pull air in and out of their lungs as opposed to a healthy horse. One of the first signs that your horse has heaves is a cough.

As the disease progresses they will become less tolerant to exercise. They will also have nasal discharge as well as flared nostrils and may develop a wheeze.

Treatment for heaves starts at home first. Removing old hay and straw and maintaining an airy stable will go a long way in assisting your horse. Ideally horses suffering from heaves should be grazing pasture where they will be less exposed dust.

For heaves, your veterinarian will prescribe anti-inflammatory drugs which will assist in their comfort.

Equine Influenza

Equine Influenza has two strains.

  • Equine-1 virus affects the heart muscle.
  • Equine-2 is much more severe.

Symptoms of equine influenza are high temperatures, a deep dry cough, clear nasal discharge, lethargy and a reluctance to move due to stiffness. Un-vaccinated horses have a 100% chance of becoming infected once in contact with this influenza and even greater still is the chance of infected foals developing pneumonia.

There is no treatment for equine influenza. However isolating a horse that you believe may be suffering from this virus from others will reduce the chance of contamination. All equipment, transport vehicles, stables, fences and stalls will need to be cleaned with a disinfectant to control the spread.

Having your horses vaccinated will not prevent them from contracting the virus however it may go a long way in reducing the long term impact and severity of the virus on your horse.


Strangles is a highly contagious and infectious disease of the upper respiratory tract. This disease affects most horses during the colder periods in the year.

Highly recognizable symptoms include high temperatures, loss of appetite, coughing, a discharge of yellow pus from the nose and enlarged glands in the head and neck that often form abscesses.

Abscesses may take up to two weeks to rupture and drain. During this time keeping your horse calm and isolated from others will assist on their road to recovery. Washing burst abscesses with water and antiseptic will take some of the pressure off your horses’ immune system.

Your veterinarian can prescribe anti-inflammatory drugs once a diagnosis has been made. Isolation will require a period of between 6-8 weeks to control contamination to other horses.

Vaccination will help reduce risk to your horse but there is no guarantee. As with most vaccinations regular boosters will assist in reducing the severity or chance of exposure. A good diet with an added probiotic will go a long way to keeping your horse’s immune system in tip top shape.