Why Does My Horse Cough When I Ride Him?

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Your horse may be coughing during your ride due to warming up, arena cough, respiratory allergies, common cold, or airway inflammation. 

In this article, we will discuss why your horse is coughing and tips to help your horse from coughing.  


5 Reasons Your Horse Coughs When Being Ridden

Warming Up

Your horse may be coughing due to warming up. A warm-up cough happens when a horse starts to exercise. 

This is usually due to excess mucus accumulating behind the larynx without anywhere to go. 

Your horse will breathe more deeply, which will cause him to cough to clear out his airways. 

Some horses produce more mucus than others, so a cough or two can be expected at the beginning of riding. 

Arena Cough

Your horse may have an arena cough. Arena cough typically occurs in an indoor arena and during the winter

The difference between warm-up coughs and arena coughs is that it happens indoors, so other factors are causing the coughing. 

Indoor riding rings produce a lot of dust that can cause respiratory irritation. Dust that combines with airborne particles from the hay in a closed-up barn can cause your horse to have airway reactivity.

This may not be severe at first but could worsen and become chronic. 

If you notice your horse having deeper coughs at the start of a ride in an indoor arena, that is not a good sign. 

It is a warning sign that the air in the ring and barn is unhealthy and could also harm your lungs. 

Respiratory Allergies

It could be due to seasonal allergies. Horses tend to have allergies just like humans. Your horse could react to environmental changes, resulting in inflamed airways. 

The main cause of respiratory allergies is an allergic reaction to specific allergens within your horse’s environment. 

Allergens are usually airborne particles such as organic dust, mold, and fungal spores that are associated with hay, barns, and pollens. 

When horses inhale these airborne allergens, it causes them to have an allergic reaction and results in inflamed airways by increasing mucus production and airway constriction that restricts the amount of air getting to the horse’s lungs.

Common Cold 

Your horse may have a common cold. A common cold could last for a few days and can be mild or severe. 

Common colds in horses could transfer to other horses in the herd just like it does with humans. 

There are several symptoms to look out for, such as a runny nose with clear or yellow nasal discharge from your horse’s nostrils, poor appetite, and lethargy are signals of the onset of a cold. 

Another symptom is your horse having a sore throat. Seeing your horse eating slowly or swallowing its food hard could indicate a sore throat. 

Symptoms may progress into a runny nose, fever, cough, runny eyes, eye inflammation, swollen throat glands, and deep raspy breathing. So, it is always good to keep an eye on your horse. 

Airway Inflammation 

It could be due to airway inflammation or Inflammatory Airway Disease (IAD), such as equine asthma. 

There are two conditions of airway inflammation Inflammatory Airway Disease (IAD) and Recurrent Airway Obstruction (RAO). 

Equine Asthma is a more accurate description of the symptoms, where IAD is a milder to moderate asthma and RAO is a more severe asthma. 

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It typically affects young horses as early as one year of age. Signs to look out for are if your horse is coughing, performing poorly, and has excessive mucus within the airways. 

It can also turn into a bacterial infection by showing signs of thicker discharge that is yellow or white. 


What to Do if Your Horse Won’t Stop Coughing

What to Do if Your Horse Won’t Stop Coughing

Gentle Exercise 

Gentle exercise may help get rid of nasal congestion. It can help your horse get out of the barn where allergen particles linger and get fresh air into its lungs. 

However, if your horse has difficulty breathing, try to keep exercise to a minimum, or it may be better to hold off on riding altogether if coughs persist. 

Check for Fever

If your horse is coughing profusely, seems lethargic, or is not eating, it may be best to check its temperature. 

It is essential to take your horse’s temperature once or twice a day for several days. If your horse’s temperature is higher than 101.5 degrees Fahrenheit, contact your veterinarian. 

A cough with a fever could indicate the flu, viral infection, or tumor. If pus-like mucus discharge occurs, it could be a bacterial infection that is most likely involved, and your horse may have a lung infection. 

You may want to check your horse’s environmental surroundings if you rule out a fever.  

Home Treatments

There may be natural cough remedies to help your horse’s cough, but they are not proven to cure it. Identifying the cause of your horse’s cough is essential before investing in at-home remedies. 

Further options are treatments such as homeopathy and aromatherapy. 

Aromatherapy is when your horse inhales specific essential oils such as eucalyptus, lavender, tea tree, or pine. 

Homeopathy remedies are oral remedies that vary depending on the cause and type of cough and should be prepared by a trained practitioner. 

Note that cough syrups and natural or homeopathic remedies should never replace veterinary care. You might want to check with your veterinarian for antibiotics to help cure your horse’s cough. 

Veterinarian Care

Your vet may prescribe something to help cure your horse’s cough. However, they may want to thoroughly examine your horse before prescribing anything. 

They may use a stethoscope to listen to your horse’s lungs. A cardiac ultrasound may be needed if an irregular heartbeat is detected. 

A heart condition can prevent your horse’s blood from pumping properly forward, causing the fluid to accumulate in your horse’s lungs, leading to coughing. 

Your vet may draw blood to run a blood count. Simple blood work will differentiate between infectious or noninfectious cough causes.  

They may perform an endoscopy, where it sends a tiny camera into your horse’s trachea, upper airways, and guttural pouches to see what is causing the coughing. 

Your vet may find that your horse’s tracheal has collapsed, or there is partial obstruction of the trachea by a foreign body or mass.  


Knowing the Different Coughs

Dry Cough 

Your horse may have a dry cough associated with minimal amounts of mucus production, leading to a dryer-sounding cough. 

A dry cough is usually caused by a virus or allergies and is generally due to inflammation of the upper respiratory airways. 

Signs of a dry cough include watery nasal discharge, fever, reluctance to eat, and lethargy. Your horse may cough several times in a row. 

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It is usually best to have your horse rest for two days and get plenty of fresh air to clear out its lungs. 

Wet Cough

Your horse may have a wet cough usually accompanied by gray or yellowish nasal discharge, loss of appetite, fever, and lethargy. 

Periodic wet coughs may include bacterial infections, which often invade the respiratory system after a viral infection weakens your horse’s immune system. You may notice a lot of mucus. 

Recurring wet coughs usually cause recurrent airway obstruction, also known as heaves, associated with an allergic response to airborne antigens, such as dust from bedding or hay. 

You may want to call your veterinarian to prescribe an antibiotic. Resting your horse twice as long as it was ill is also recommended. 

Sinusitis Infection 

Your horse may have a sinusitis infection causing your horse to have a mucus containing pus or blood accompanied by a foul odor. 

There is a primary and secondary categories of sinusitis infection: 

Primary sinusitis is usually caused by a bacterial infection, commonly known as Streptococcus, associated with an upper respiratory infection. This can result in a pus buildup and inflammation of the sinus lining. 

Secondary sinusitis is an infection caused by another source, such as a disease or dental problems. 

Infections of the molar roots of the upper jaw can cause an eruption of the sinuses due to it being within the maxillary sinuses. 

Call your vet for further examination if your horse has a sinusitis infection. 


4 Tips to Prevent Coughing in Horses 

Tips to Prevent Coughing

#1 Bedding 

Reducing the amount of dust may help your horse’s coughing. Bedding can carry a lot of dust, so switching out the straw for wood shavings may be helpful. 

Dust is usually released into the air while mucking out the stall and spreading sawdust. It may help to put your horse outside the stall while cleaning the stable.

It may be better to keep your sensitive horse in a quiet and ventilated area within the stable. Do not put your horse near the stable entrance where everything happens and passes. 

It is also a good idea to hose down the corridor of the stable before sweeping it to help reduce any particles. 

#2 Food 

You may need to find a feed solution for your horse that is prone to coughing. 

Elevating the hay in a hay net or rack may help prevent dust particles from building up in your horse’s airways. 

Dry hay accumulates a lot of particles that can disrupt a sensitive horse’s respiratory system. 

Putting hay in a steamer minimizes dust, mold, fungi, and bacteria. A hay steamer can be expensive, but helping your horse is worth it. 

#3 Ventilation

It may help to install a disco smoke machine in the stable. Having a ventilator can help with draught-free ventilation and keep the air circulating throughout the whole stable. 

Having ventilation will help keep dust particles from accumulating in the barn. A good place to put the ventilator is under the eaves and ridge. 

#4 Healing Time

It could take a few weeks before your horse fully recovers, so it is vital to allow it plenty of recovery time. 

Riding your horse could irritate their airways and cause them to become sicker. Cold weather could also make your horse’s airways worse. 

It is essential that your horse gets plenty of fresh air and stays in a well-ventilated area.