EQUUS - - Hands On -


Q:You no­tice what looks like blood in the snow near where your horse re­cently uri­nated. Where does this rank on the panic scale of zero (“No big deal”) to 10 (“Call the vet­eri­nar­ian this very sec­ond”)? For the an­swer, turn to page 17.

whatGs that SOUND?

There are many per­fectly nor­mal noises your horse may make as he breathes, and there other sounds that may be cause for con­cern. Know­ing the dif­fer­ence be­tween the two is im­por­tant for your own peace of mind as well as for pro­tect­ing your horse’s health. Here’s a quick de­scrip­tion of three com­mon res­pi­ra­tory noises and what they likely mean.

•A rhyth­mic flut­ter­ing or “purring” noise made in sync with the can­ter or gal­lop is per­fectly nor­mal. It is the re­sult of vi­bra­tion in the alar folds of the nos­trils dur­ing in­hala­tion. This noise is not in­dica­tive of poor fit­ness or res­pi­ra­tory trou­bles. The noise is timed with the can­ter or gal­lop strides be­cause at those gaits your horse’s breath­ing is fa­cil­i­tated by the move­ment of his or­gans back and forth against his di­aphragm.

•A rasp­ing sound or higher-pitched whistling noise made at the can­ter or gal­lop is com­monly called “roar­ing” and in­di­cates pos­si­ble trou­ble. It’s the re­sult of a la­ryn­geal hemi­ple­gia, which is paral­y­sis of the nerve that con­trols the mus­cle that pulls one of the paired ary­tenoid car­ti­lage flaps away from the air­way open­ing near the lar­ynx. This most com­monly oc­curs in large, long-necked horses and isn’t the re­sult of trauma, overuse or ill­ness. With the mus­cle weak­ened, the car­ti­lage flap “sags” into the a^rway# A horse may be able to man" age with lim­ited air­way use at the walk or trot, but when he be­gins to breathe

A rhyth­mic flut­ter­ing or “purring” noise made in sync with the can­ter or gal­lop is per­fectly nor­mal.

harder at the can­ter, the ob­struc­tion leads to the loud, raspier noise.

Be­cause it lim­its the amount of air en­ter­ing the lungs, la­ryn­geal hemi­ple­gia can re­duce a horse’s ath­letic ca­pac­ity by re­strict­ing his oxy­gen in­take. It’s most dra­matic when a horse is asked to work very hard over a short pe­riod of time. In those cases the horse may “shut down” and refuse to work. That’s why you aren’t likely to find roar­ers suc­ceed­ing at the race­track, but a horse with the con­di­tion might man­age just fine on the trails or as a plea­sure mount.

wheez­ing-like res­pi­ra­tory noises from a horse, par­tic­u­larly un­der con­di­tions where he wouldn’t nor­mally be strug­gling to breathe, is cause for im­me­di­ate con­cern and in­ves­ti­ga­tion. While ex­tremely hot weather or very hard work can cause any horse to breathe a bit louder, a wheezy horse who is stand­ing still in mod­er­ate tem­per­a­tures likely has equine asthma (also called “heaves”) and is in the midst of a res­pi­ra­tory cri­sis. The wheeze is usu­ally heard on the ex­hale, but the tim­ing doesn’t mat­ter that much---if you can hear a horse breath­ing when he’s

stand­ing still, you need to be con­cerned. Med­i­ca­tions can help con­trol heaves, but the long-term so­lu­tion is to keep the horse in as dust-free an en­vi­ron­ment as pos­si­ble, which may mean con­tin­ual turnout with wa­tered-down for­age.


When a horse is chok­ing, it’s un­der­stand­able to want to help him im­me­di­ately. A sig­nif­i­cant episode of choke can cause a horse to cough and retch. Even a mild case will leave a horse with­drawn and look­ing mis­er­able. But he’s not in im­me­di­ate dan­ger. The term “choke” in horses refers to a block­age of the esoph­a­gus with food, not the wind­pipe as in peo­ple. This means that a horse with choke isn’t go­ing to pass out from lack of oxy­gen, no mat­ter how long the block­age re­mains.

None­the­less, you’re go­ing to want to do some­thing to help a chok­ing horse. But over­come the in­stinct to use a sy­ringe or hose to squirt wa­ter into his mouth to help “wash” down the block­age. This won’t help and can make the sit­u­a­tion much worse---if the horse pulls back and lifts his head, the wa­ter, saliva and feed may end up go­ing down his wind­pipe and into his lungs. This can lead to pneu­mo­nia and other po­ten­tially se­ri­ous com­pli­ca­tions.

Vet­eri­nar­i­ans of­ten use wa­ter to treat choke, but with some es­sen­tial pre­cau­tions. For starters, they use a nasal tube to de­liver wa­ter well past the open­ing of the wind­pipe. They de­liver the wa­ter very gen­tly to slowly break up the mass. Ex­cess wa­ter runs back out via the nasal tube, stay­ing well away from the wind­pipe. Fi­nally, many vet­eri­nar­i­ans will se­date a horse for the pro­ce­dure, which not only pre­vents pulling back, but will keep the horse’s head low so grav­ity can as­sist in keep­ing wa­ter out of the lungs.

The good news is that most cases of choke dis­si­pate on their own with time. The best way to help your horse is to move him to a quiet place and keep a close eye on him. He’s likely to keep his head low and con­tinue to sali­vate and pos­si­bly retch un­til the block­age soft­ens and moves on its own. If you see no im­prove­ment af­ter 30 min­utes or so, call your vet­eri­nar­ian.

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