Learn the causes, symptoms, and management options for horses with heaves (recurrent airway obstruction.)


Heaves, formerly known as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and now most often called recurrent airway obstruction (RAO)

What it is: A chronic allergic respiratory disease triggered by exposure to straw and/or hay, resulting in airway inflammation, mucus production and bronchoconstriction.

Symptoms: Coughing; nasal discharge; flared nostrils; increased respiratory rate; labored breathing with prolonged, labored expiration; a “heave line” on the barrel just below the ribcage, caused by overdevelopment of the abdominal muscles; exercise intolerance.

What to do: Call your veterinarian during regular clinic hours.

Outlook: This ailment can’t be cured, but it can be managed. A horse with heaves should be turned out as much as possible, preferably in a pasture. If this isn’t practical, he should be kept in an environment that is dust-free and well-ventilated as possible, away from straw and hay storage. Feeding a pelleted feed instead of hay will also help reduce symptoms.

Back to Horse Health Glossary 

This article originally appeared in the 2012 issue of Horses USA.


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