In our Ask the Vet column, Dr. Lydia Gray answers your horse-health questions at HorseChannel.com/AskTheVet. Got a question for Dr. Gray? Send it to firstname.lastname@example.org and use subject line “Ask the Vet.”
Q: I have an 11-year-old Saddlebred gelding. He is a roarer and had a failed tie back surgery years ago. I try to keep his feed moist and am conscious of his breathing. He is starting to have allergy symptoms like runny nose, coughing, eye discharge. Do I need to start him on a supplement? He seems fine otherwise.
A: Any horse with a runny nose, coughing, and eye discharge should be seen by a veterinarian, even one with a previous history of a non-infectious respiratory condition. It can be tempting not to take these signs seriously, thinking you know the cause, but doing so may lead to worse problems in this and other horses. That’s because the problems you list here aren’t classic for “roaring” or laryngeal hemiplegia but are common in contagious diseases like equine herpesvirus, influenza, and strangles, making it vital to have a vet exam. In addition to ruling out these and other respiratory illnesses which can spread from one horse to another and even be life-threatening, obtaining a diagnosis could rule in something like inflammatory airway disease or recurrent airway obstruction, now grouped together as Equine Asthma Syndrome.
Knowing whether your horse has an infectious disease caused by bacteria or viruses or an inflammatory condition caused by environmental factors is the key to developing a treatment and management plan. On the one hand, your horse may need antibiotics, repeat nasal swabs, and quarantine. On the other hand, corticosteroids and fresh air may be prescribed. An accurate diagnosis helps you select the appropriate course of action while not selecting the wrong approach. It also gets the horse feeling better more quickly and, in the long run, may actually end up costing less.
Once you know what you’re up against, then it’s time to talk to your vet about the role supplements may play in supporting your horse’s respiratory system and overall health. Research suggests that providing antioxidants – especially Vitamin C – may be beneficial to horses with airway disorders. Some of my other favorite ingredients in this category include omega 3 fatty acids, MSM, N-acetyl cysteine, and herbs.