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.
WHAT NOT TO DO FOR A CHOKING HORSE
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.