While we certainly feel more comfortable bundled up inside on a cold winter day, our horses may not. A significant amount of effort goes into keeping our horses’ toasty in their stalls, but their respiratory health may be negatively affected.
Prevent decreased performance, coughing and breathing trouble by taking a few simple measures when caring for horses in cold weather:
- Horse barn ventilation
- Provide plenty of turnout
- Limit working horses in cold weather
- Proper equine nutrition
The most effective way to reduce the effects or prevent horse non-infectious respiratory disease is decreasing exposure to respirable irritants and working horses in freezing temperatures on a limited basis. If horses cannot be kept outdoors, then the focus needs to be on reducing airborne particles in your feeding program. Here are a few tips:
- Feed low-dust feed
- Feeding hay in feeders at ground level as opposed to hay racks above the grain
- Thoroughly soak the hay in water and feed wet to reduce dust and molds adequately
In many cases, horses affected by respiratory irritants don’t show improvement until the hay is entirely replaced by feeding a complete feed with built-in forage. Many horses with respiratory problems cannot tolerate any hay, even wet hay, and do much better eating one of these products. Keep in mind that horses eating hay in adjoining stalls can still cause problems for affected horses.
Working horses in cold weather
Horses have an amazing respiratory system that is exceptionally equipped to function during exercise. When the air being inhaled contains high numbers of respirable organic particles, the potential for irritation elevates. Add exercise on top of that, such as training in an indoor arena during the winter, the increased respiration rate has the ability to cause deeper penetration of particulate matter in the lungs. In addition to air quality concerns, winter also brings frigid air temperatures. Research by Elfman, Pringle, Raine, and Riihimäki (2008) has shown that cold-weather exercise can cause asthma-like airway disease in performance horses. Repeated work in frigid cold temperatures can also lead to chronic airway inflammation.
Any time you notice coughing or labored breathing in your horse, make an appointment with your veterinarian for a thorough exam to determine the cause and the appropriate course of action to provide relief.
If you have questions regarding your horses feed program, reach out to Munson Lakes country store team or stop in and browse our feed and equine accessories.