What should you do if your horse starts coughing? Find out about the causes of coughing here!horse coughing
Ask yourself these questions:

  1. How long has the cough been present?
  2. How frequent is the cough?
  3. Does the horse have nasal discharge or abnormal breathing?
  4. Does the horse have a fever?
  5. Is the cough worsened by exercise?
  6. Is your horse lethargic or ill in any other way?
  7. Does the horse only seem to cough under certain conditions (when eating, etc.)

The common cough is, funnily enough, quite common and can affect any horse, pony or donkey at any age. It is literally a sudden expulsion of air from the lungs and, as in humans, it is a reflex action to an obstruction within the airways or an irritation of the mucous membranes of the larynx, bronchial tubes or lungs. This may occur for a number of reasons, however they are usually either infectious or allergic.

Be very aware of the persistence and depth of the cough - does the horse look distressed, or in pain, and is there any discharge from the nose? The vet must always be called at the earliest opportunity to diagnose the severity and treat with drugs if necessary to relieve the irritation. Should these early signs be overlooked the long term damage to the lungs, and maybe the bronchial tube, will be permanent.

Allergic causes of coughing

Dust from bedding and spores from forage has always been blamed for the 'tickly' cough, however other elements must also be recognised.
* You should always have maximum ventilation within the stable or barn and leave the windows and top doors open - you can always put an extra rug on your horse if necessary.
* The type of stable bedding is important.  Rubber matting can provide a dust-free alternative to bedding however there are many paper and shavings bedding products available too.
* Straw beds should, if possible, be avoided due to their high dust content.

HA0289Bob AtkinsHowever, if no alternative is possible try and buy the best quality straw as it is more likely to have less dust, slightly dampen the bedding and always ensure that the horse is taken out when mucking out, re-bedding and sweeping up. Let whatever dust there is settle before the horse goes back in the stable.

Infectious causes of coughing

* The most common causes include the influenza virus and the herpes virus, however both these are preventable by vaccination.
* Bacterial causes include the streptococcus equi which is responsible for strangles, for which there is a vaccine, and a variety of other bugs which may attack when a horse has had their immune system compromised through another unrelated illness always consult your veterinary surgeon and make sure your horse's vaccinations are up to date.


* Sadly this disease is a common problem. Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease is also known as Heaves or Recurrent Airway Obstruction. It is an allergic disease of the lung causing the small airways to constrict, resulting in short and hurried breaths, which results in a cough.
* Some cases can be mild, only becoming significant when exercised, however other cases can be severe which is when the lungs become permanently damaged, and the term for this is broken winded.

HA0498Bob Atkins

* A horse may be allergic to many substances - the worst offenders are the fungal spores found on hay and straw which is why it is more prevalent in the winter months. Good stable hygiene is vital to control this disease and the measures mentioned above must be strictly adhered to.

The material is in no way intended to replace the professional veterinary care or attention provided by a professional veterinary surgeon. The material presented is for information purposes only.

For lots more advice and tips on A-Z horse ailments Read more