Ex­cess Gas in a Horse With Heaves

Is flat­u­lence a sign of ex­tra trou­ble in a horse with heaves? Might a hay steamer help?

Horse & Rider - - Whole Horse Q&a - TERRI SHI­FLETT, Penn­syl­va­nia

QMy 20-year-old Ap­paloosa de­vel­oped as­pi­ra­tion pneu­mo­nia about 12 years ago. She was on an­tibi­otics for six weeks and since then had been do­ing great, ex­cept over the past five or six years she started de­vel­op­ing heaves. We soak her hay and give her al­lergy shots. Why is it that when some horses with heaves cough, they also pass gas, at times ex­plo­sively? I was told that’s not good. The hay soak­ing helps, but in Penn­syl­va­nia it’s tough when the water freezes. Would a hay steamer help kill dust, mold spores, or what­ever is in hay to make my mare cough?


mono­gas­tric di­ges­tive sys­tem (a sim­ple, sin­gle-cham­bered stom­ach, sim­i­lar to ours), they also have a com­po­nent of fer­men­ta­tion that oc­curs in the back half of their GI tract (ce­cum and large colon). It’s here that a sig­nif­i­cant amount of gas is pro­duced while the feed­stuffs are fer­mented, re­sult­ing in a fair bit of flat­u­lence (see box).

Hay steam­ers fall into the cat­e­gory of en­vi­ron­men­tal man­age­ment of RAO. The pur­pose of a hay steamer is to heat the hay to tem­per­a­tures greater than 212 de­grees Fahren­heit to kill mold spores, mites, and bac­te­ria, some of the al­ler­gens that can stim­u­late the clin­i­cal signs seen with horses suf­fer­ing from heaves. The steam­ing process should elim­i­nate the need to wet the hay—handy where win­ter tem­per­a­tures drop be­low freez­ing. Anec­do­tally, steamed hay does seem to be help­ful for horses prone to heaves, es­pe­cially those in freez­ing cli­mates.

There are mul­ti­ple com­mer­cially made hay-steam­ing op­tions avail­able, from those that’ll steam one f lake of hay at a time to mod­els that can han­dle an en­tire bale. The com­mer­cially avail­able mod­els are min­i­mally la­bor-in­ten­sive, re­quir­ing you only to add hay and water, then turn the unit on. For more on deal­ing with RAO, re­view “Horse Heaves: Symp­toms and Treat­ment.”

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