Respiratory infections are the most common infectious diseases of horses. The acute infection in horses can sideline your horse anywhere from a week to a month. Worse yet, complications can have even more serious and long-lasting effects for your horse.
The symptoms of respiratory-tract infection are hard to miss, and are the same for horses as they are for you. These include:
• Runny nose/nasal discharge-clear to yellow or white
• Often runny eyes or eye inflammation
• Cough-from dry to very moist
• Depression/lethargy (seems sick)
• Poor appetite (both from feeling ill and throat pain)
• Changes in breathing pattern (normal respiratory rate is 6 to 8 breaths per minute)
Respiratory Tract Invaders
There are several primary causes of respiratory tract infections. Identifying what’s at the root of the horse’s problem will make it faster and easier to get him into recovery and minimize the chance of any lasting damage. Here are some of the immediate considerations.
Bacteria: Strangles is the most well known bacterial respiratory tract infection. It usually remains confined to the upper portions of the respiratory tract (throat and local lymph nodes), but can sometimes also involve the lungs. At least 10% of strangles cases will end up with chronic infections in the guttural pouches.
A wide variety of bacteria can infect the lungs and cause pneumonia. In otherwise healthy adults, this usually occurs after the lung has been irritated by a virus infection, or in horses with weak lungs because of chronic allergic disease. Heavy exercise and shipping are also risk factors for developing bacterial pneumonia (and viral infections), because they cause a temporary weakening of the immune system. Both foals and aged horses, which have weaker immune systems, may be more susceptible to bacterial invasion of the lungs.