Why Do Horses Cough?

Horses, just like humans, can occasionally experience coughing. Coughing in horses can be a result of various factors, including respiratory infections, allergies, irritants in the environment, or even certain underlying health conditions. It is important to pay attention to a horse’s cough as it may indicate a potential issue that requires veterinary attention. By identifying the cause of a horse’s cough, appropriate treatment and management can be implemented to ensure their well-being and respiratory health.

why do horses cough

Respiratory Infections in Horses

Horses are prone to respiratory infections, which can significantly impact their health and performance. The respiratory system of horses is delicate and susceptible to various pathogens that can cause infections. In this section, we will explore the different types of respiratory infections commonly found in horses and discuss their causes, symptoms, and treatment options.

1. Equine Influenza

Equine influenza, also known as the flu, is a highly contagious viral infection that affects the respiratory system of horses. It is caused by the equine influenza virus and spreads through respiratory droplets from infected horses. The virus can survive on surfaces for a short period, making it easy to transmit between horses. Common symptoms of equine influenza include fever, coughing, nasal discharge, and decreased appetite. Vaccination is available to prevent the flu, and affected horses require rest and supportive care to recover.

2. Equine Herpesvirus

Equine herpesvirus (EHV) is a common respiratory infection in horses that can cause respiratory symptoms as well as other complications. There are several types of EHV, including EHV-1 and EHV-4, which can impact the respiratory system. EHV is highly contagious and spreads through direct contact with infected horses or contaminated equipment. Symptoms of EHV include fever, coughing, nasal discharge, and lethargy. In severe cases, EHV can lead to neurological symptoms or abortion in pregnant mares. Vaccination and strict biosecurity measures are crucial in preventing and managing EHV infections.

3. Strangles

Strangles, also known as equine distemper, is a highly contagious bacterial infection caused by Streptococcus equi. It primarily affects the upper respiratory tract of horses and is characterized by swollen lymph nodes in the throat region. Infected horses may show symptoms such as fever, nasal discharge, coughing, and difficulty swallowing. The bacteria can be transmitted through direct contact or contaminated objects. Isolation, supportive care, and appropriate antibiotic treatment are necessary to manage strangles and prevent its spread.

4. Rhinopneumonitis

Rhinopneumonitis, caused by equine herpesvirus (EHV-1 and EHV-4), is another common respiratory infection in horses. It can lead to symptoms such as fever, coughing, nasal discharge, and respiratory distress. In addition to respiratory symptoms, EHV-1 can also cause abortion in pregnant mares and neurological disorders. Vaccination and biosecurity protocols play a crucial role in preventing and managing rhinopneumonitis outbreaks.

5. Pneumonia

Pneumonia is an infection that affects the lungs and can be caused by various bacteria, viruses, or fungi. Horses with weakened immune systems or those exposed to stressful conditions are more susceptible to pneumonia. The common symptoms of equine pneumonia include fever, coughing, nasal discharge, increased respiratory rate, and lethargy. Treatment involves antibiotics, anti-inflammatory medications, and supportive care to help horses recover.

In summary, respiratory infections are a significant concern for horse owners and trainers. Equine influenza, equine herpesvirus, strangles, rhinopneumonitis, and pneumonia are common respiratory infections that can range from mild to severe. Vaccination, biosecurity measures, and prompt treatment are essential in preventing and managing these infections. Regular veterinary check-ups and maintaining a clean and hygienic environment can help keep respiratory infections at bay and ensure the well-being of horses.

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Allergies and Irritants: Triggers of Horse Cough

In this section, we will explore the various allergies and irritants that can act as triggers for horse cough. Understanding these triggers is essential for effective management and prevention of coughing episodes in horses.

Horses, just like humans, can be susceptible to allergies and irritants in their environment. These triggers can cause inflammation and irritation in the respiratory system, leading to coughing in horses. Let’s take a closer look at some common allergies and irritants that can affect horses:


Pollen is a common allergen that can trigger coughing in horses. It is produced by trees, grasses, and weeds, and is typically present in the air during the spring and fall seasons. Horses that are allergic to pollen may experience coughing, nasal discharge, and wheezing.

Dust and Mold

Dust and mold can also cause respiratory issues in horses, including coughing. Dust particles and mold spores are commonly found in stable bedding, hay, and poorly ventilated areas. Horses with allergies to dust and mold may exhibit coughing, sneezing, and nasal discharge.

Chemical Irritants

Chemical irritants such as ammonia, cleaning agents, and pesticides can irritate a horse’s respiratory system, leading to coughing. These irritants are commonly found in stable environments and can be harmful if inhaled regularly. Proper ventilation and avoiding the use of harsh chemicals can help minimize respiratory irritation in horses.

Bacterial and Viral Infections

Bacterial and viral infections, such as equine influenza and strangles, can also cause coughing in horses. These infections can be highly contagious and may spread easily in a barn or equestrian facility. Vaccinations and proper hygiene practices can help prevent these infections and reduce the risk of coughing episodes.

Hay and Forage Allergies

Some horses may develop allergies to certain types of hay or forage. This can result in coughing, nasal discharge, and other respiratory symptoms. Identifying and avoiding the specific allergen can help manage coughing in these cases.

Environmental Factors

Environmental factors, such as extreme temperatures, high humidity, and poor air quality, can also contribute to coughing in horses. Cold air or dusty conditions can irritate the respiratory system, leading to coughing. Maintaining a comfortable and clean environment for horses can help minimize these triggers.


Allergies and irritants can act as triggers for horse cough. Pollen, dust, mold, chemical irritants, bacterial and viral infections, hay and forage allergies, and environmental factors can all contribute to respiratory issues in horses. Understanding and managing these triggers is crucial for maintaining the respiratory health of horses and minimizing coughing episodes.

Equine Asthma: A Chronic Respiratory Condition

Equine asthma, also known as heaves or recurrent airway obstruction (RAO), is a chronic respiratory condition that affects horses of all ages and breeds. It is a common condition that can significantly impact the horse’s quality of life and performance. In this section, we will explore the causes, symptoms, diagnosis, and treatment options for equine asthma.

Causes of Equine Asthma

The primary cause of equine asthma is exposure to environmental allergens such as mold spores, dust mites, pollen, and bacteria present in hay, straw, or bedding materials. When horses with sensitized respiratory systems inhale these allergens, it triggers an inflammatory response in their airways.

Other factors that can contribute to the development of equine asthma include poor ventilation in stables, exposure to airborne irritants like ammonia from urine, and respiratory infections. Certain breeds, such as warmbloods and ponies, may also be more predisposed to developing asthma.

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Symptoms of Equine Asthma

The symptoms of equine asthma can vary in severity, ranging from mild coughing and nasal discharge to severe difficulty in breathing. Some common symptoms include:

  • Labored breathing
  • Coughing, especially during exercise or exposure to dusty environments
  • Nasal discharge
  • Increased respiratory effort, with flared nostrils
  • Reduced exercise tolerance
  • Weight loss
  • Generalized weakness or fatigue

Diagnosis of Equine Asthma

To diagnose equine asthma, your veterinarian will conduct a thorough physical examination of your horse and take a detailed medical history. They may also recommend additional diagnostic tests, such as:

  • Bronchoalveolar lavage (BAL): This involves collecting a sample of fluid from the airways to evaluate the presence of inflammatory cells.
  • Endoscopy: A small camera is passed through the horse’s nose or mouth to examine the airways for signs of inflammation or mucus accumulation.
  • Pulmonary function tests: These tests measure the horse’s lung function and can provide valuable information about the severity of the condition.

Treatment of Equine Asthma

The primary goal of treating equine asthma is to manage the symptoms and reduce the horse’s exposure to allergens. This may involve:

  • Environmental management: Stabling the horse in a well-ventilated area, using dust-free bedding, and minimizing exposure to known allergens.
  • Medications: Your veterinarian may prescribe bronchodilators to help open the airways and corticosteroids to reduce inflammation. In some cases, anti-inflammatory drugs such as leukotriene receptor antagonists may also be used.
  • Dietary modifications: Feeding low-dust hay or soaked hay may help reduce the horse’s exposure to allergens.
  • Supplements: Certain supplements, such as omega-3 fatty acids or antioxidants, may have a beneficial effect on respiratory health.

Prevention of Equine Asthma

While equine asthma cannot be completely prevented, there are steps that can be taken to minimize the risk of developing the condition:

  • Maintain good stable hygiene, including regular cleaning, to minimize the accumulation of dust and allergens.
  • Provide good ventilation in the stable and turnout areas.
  • Soak or steam hay to reduce the amount of airborne allergens.
  • Minimize exposure to dusty environments, especially during high-risk periods such as barn cleaning or hay delivery.
  • Consider routine health checks and respiratory evaluations to detect early signs of equine asthma.

In summary, equine asthma is a chronic respiratory condition that can significantly impact a horse’s well-being. Early diagnosis, proper management, and minimizing exposure to allergens are key to successfully managing this condition and improving the horse’s quality of life.

Treating and Managing Horse Cough

If you have a horse that is experiencing a cough, it is important to take prompt action to treat and manage the condition. A cough in horses can be caused by a variety of factors, including allergies, respiratory infections, or even environmental irritants. In this section, we will explore different approaches to treating and managing horse cough.

1. Veterinary Examination

The first step in treating horse cough is to consult with a veterinarian. A thorough examination will help identify the underlying cause of the cough and guide the appropriate treatment plan. The vet may perform a physical examination, take samples for laboratory analysis, or recommend additional diagnostic procedures such as endoscopy or radiography.

2. Environmental Management

One of the key aspects of managing horse cough is to minimize exposure to potential irritants in the environment. This can include reducing dust and mold in the horse’s living quarters, ensuring good ventilation, and using bedding materials that are less likely to cause respiratory irritation. It is also important to provide the horse with access to clean, fresh water and high-quality forage to support a healthy immune system.
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3. Medication and Supplements

Depending on the underlying cause of the cough, your veterinarian may prescribe medication or recommend supplements to help alleviate symptoms and promote healing. This can include bronchodilators to open up the airways, anti-inflammatory drugs to reduce inflammation, or antibiotics to treat bacterial infections. Additionally, the vet may suggest the use of natural remedies or supplements that can support respiratory health, such as herbs or omega-3 fatty acids.

4. Vaccinations

Prevention is key when it comes to managing horse cough. Vaccinations can help protect your horse against respiratory infections caused by viruses such as influenza or equine herpesvirus. Consult with your veterinarian to determine the appropriate vaccination schedule for your horse based on their lifestyle, travel, and exposure to other horses.

5. Rest and Exercise

During the recovery period, it is important to provide your horse with adequate rest to allow their body to heal. Avoid strenuous exercise and provide a comfortable and stress-free environment for their recovery. However, it is also important to gradually reintroduce exercise once the horse is feeling better, as physical activity can help improve respiratory function.

6. Monitoring and Follow-up

Regular monitoring and follow-up with your veterinarian are crucial to ensure that the treatment plan is effective and to address any changes or concerns. Your vet may recommend periodic check-ups, respiratory function tests, or other diagnostic procedures to assess the horse’s progress and make any necessary adjustments to their treatment plan. In summary, treating and managing horse cough involves a combination of veterinary care, environmental management, medication or supplements, vaccinations, rest, exercise, and diligent monitoring. By addressing the underlying cause of the cough and providing appropriate treatment, you can help your horse recover and maintain a healthy respiratory system. Remember to always consult with a veterinarian for personalized advice and guidance tailored to your horse’s specific needs.


Why do horses cough?

Horses can cough due to various reasons, including respiratory infections, allergies, irritants in the air, or even because of exercise-induced respiratory issues. Coughing helps to clear the airway and remove any foreign substances or mucus. If a horse’s cough persists or is accompanied by other symptoms, it’s recommended to consult a veterinarian for proper diagnosis and treatment.


In conclusion, understanding why horses cough is crucial for their overall health and well-being. Whether it’s due to respiratory infections, allergies, or environmental factors, coughing in horses should never be ignored. Proper diagnosis and treatment by a veterinarian are essential to address underlying issues and prevent further complications. Regular check-ups, a clean and well-ventilated environment, and appropriate management practices can help reduce the risk of coughing in horses. Additionally, providing horses with a balanced diet, regular exercise, and minimizing exposure to irritants can contribute to their respiratory health. Taking these proactive measures can ensure that horses lead a happy and cough-free life.