Heaves

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

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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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