Also known as Recurrent Airway obstruction it is caused by chronic inflammation in the lungs due to a hypersensitivity to inhaled dust. Heaves is very similar to asthma in humans and can vary in severity the same. It is a result of an allergy to exposed organic particles in the dust in their environment. Mold commonly found in hay called Aspergillus fumigates is often the primary trigger but other types of mold, dust mites, arc may play a role. Mild forms can be seen as a mild cough with some mucous build up. More severe cases horses have trouble breathing even at rest. Unfortunately once a horse develops RAO he will always be more susceptible to attacks or flare ups when he encounters even small amounts of the substances he is allergic to.
Although medical management will most likely be implemented to control the symptoms daily management of the horses environment is key! These include:
- Wet your hay. Even though you may have a good quality hay source there is still dust and some mold spores present, and if your horse has any sensitivity any small amount may trigger an episode.
- Steam your hay- hay steamers are now available to steam whole bales, half bales and individual portions. By increasing the temperature of the hay you are not only adding moisture nut also reducing the load of molds and fungi
- Avoid Round bales if fed out in pasture, theycarry a higher volume of endotoxins, dusts and mold compared to other forage options.
- Switch to pellets. If soaking hay is not enough then no loose forage at all may have to be implemented.
- Increase turn out time.
- Change stalls- avoid enclosed barn stalls, stalls that face an arena or track. Make sure your horse is placed where the most airflow is present.
- Change bedding –straw is the worst because it mold easily. A paper or cardboard bedding is best but sawdust can be used as well.
- Good ventilation in the barn, clean your barn while horses are turned out.
- Nutrition! Add an omega 3 fatty acid supplement
Aside from management your horse may need to be treated medically. Ventipulmin is a common drug used together with corticosteroids, dexamethasone and or prednisone, Inhalers are now being utilized to treat horses with Rao. They seem to work quicker than the oral medications as they are going straight to the source.
Take home message is heaves is never cured rather maintained. Management is lifelong once the horse develops heaves. Many can still live a long time and continue to work and enjoy life so long as the environment is maintained appropriately.