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post #1 of 16 Old 06-10-2012, 11:50 AM Thread Starter
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Heaves Advice?

Hi All,

Apologies in advance for the novel... I'm posting as a sort of update/vent/advice search. Any advice and/or sharing of similar experience would be greatly appreciated.

To start with some background, about a month ago (Sunday, May 6th) I got a phone call at school from my dad saying that Scout was coughing and having labored breathing, and that he was concerned. I was stuck at school, taking finals, and unable to come home, but told Dad to use his best judgement and call the vet if he was in any doubt. Scout had been outside all afternoon, it was warm and very sunny, somewhat humid. Dad brought him into the barn for his afternoon feeding, and noticed that he was breathing hard and fast, with some slight wheezing, and was acting somewhat lethargic. Scout often gets "dozey" if he's been out in the sun; he comes in, takes a drink, munches his hay, takes a power nap (usually standing up, but laying down for a little while isn't unheard of with him), and is good to go. Labored breathing and wheezing, however, is obviously abnormal.

Cutting out the tales of drama dealing with the vet on call at the clinic that weekend (not our usual vet), Scout appeared to be having more and more trouble as the evening went on. No mucus, just fast, hard breaths, audible breathing/wheezing, and breathing really far back into his abdomen, if that makes sense. Putting his whole body into the breathing process. Vet on call came out to the farm and diagnosed him with heaves, gave him a shot of steroids, explained to Dad how to soak his hay, the importance of keeping dust down and good ventilation, etc., and recommended that we pick up a canister of Tri-Hist supplement from the office in the morning to put him on as a preventative/maintenance measure. Scout improved pretty quickly, back to completely normal by the time I was able to come home after finals/graduation. I was NOT present for the above incident, so that is based on Dad's and Sister's reports.

For the last month, I've been soaking his hay, keeping him on the Tri-Hist powder as per dosage directions on the canister (I've had to use a blob of molasses over the feed/supplement mixture to stick it together and get him to eat it -- it must taste foul...), and maximizing his turnout. 24/7 turnout is not really an option, as the pasture has no real shelter from sun, heat, wind, or rain, although I'm looking into changing that in the near future if at all possible. When he is in the barn, he has an open window in his stall and good ventilation. I use a bagged sawdust/shaving bedding from TSC, and switched from the better-clumping "fine" version to the less dusty "flake" version. All sweeping and barn cleaning happens while he's outside so as not to aggravate his breathing.

I've ridden him lightly (walking and stretches of trot work, working up to several minutes of trot at a time) a few times since the heaves diagnosis, and he has had no breathing problems whatsoever due to exercise, except for two coughing fits under saddle; 4-5 strong coughs, dry, no mucus, nothing coming up, a snort through the nose, and back to completely normal. The coughing continued on and off over this time; some days no coughing at all that I heard (I'm around the barn most of the day), some days several quick, strong, dry coughs in succession, and then back to normal.

Fast-forward -- later yesterday evening, Scout had another "attack." I'd brought him in from the pasture earlier in the day, and he had been completely normal. Dad says that this second attack was much milder than the first time; his breathing was labored, far from "right," but much less than what Dad observed a month ago. He was acting very normal aside from the labored breathing; perky, eating his hay normally, dunking it in his water bucket a bite at a time just as always. We called the vet, thankfully my normal vet was on call this weekend, and she made up a steroid shot for him and sent a full vial of dexamethasone and spare syringes to have on hand if we needed it in the future. Sister drove down to pick up the syringe, and I gave it to him around 10 o'clock last night. His breathing looked better within half an hour, still acting quite normal aside from the breathing. He had a small coughing fit, 6 or so hard coughs, one hard enough that he passed gas sharply at the same time, and went right back to eating his hay. His appetite is normal, poo and pee all normal in amounts and appearance. He looked good enough to leave him for the night around midnight/12:30.

I went out to the barn around 6:30 this morning, and he was still breathing heavier than normal, but he whinnied when I came through the door, was very interested/enthusiastic about his breakfast. I did not give a dose of the dexamethasone this morning; he got his Tri-Hist over his breakfast pellets, and figured I'd let the supplement do it's thing before I throw more meds at him. He is currently in his stall, windows open and barn doors open for crossbreeze; I'm a bit conflicted over that, I know that it's recommended to keep heavey horses outside in fresh air as much as humanly possible. The reason why he's inside right now is that we haven't had any appreciable rainfall in 2 weeks, and the pasture is getting dusty. I suspect that standing/playing in the dusty area near the gate may be the culprit in yesterday's attack anyway. The rest of the pasture is thick grass, if he'd have the good sense to play out there away from the dry dirt patch at the gate...

I do not doubt the heaves diagnosis; all my research over the last few weeks fits with Scout's symptoms. My vet explained that what Scout is doing is not uncommon in our region and this season, with high pollen and especially with the near-drought we've been experiencing over the last several weeks creating more dust. Not normal, but not uncommon.

If anyone has had any experience with heaves, or other advice for managing this, I'd love to hear it. My next move is to start putting him outside overnight as long as the weather isn't calling for heavy rain/storms -- like I said, no shelter for him if he wants/needs it.

Cookies to all who read this... Scout and I appreciate it, and would love any suggestions, advice, or just good vibes directed his way. I've never personally dealt with a heaves case before; I understand that the condition is generally quite manageable, but I'm rather a nervous "mother" about it at this point, I guess, haha.

A stubborn horse walks behind you, an impatient one in front of you, but a noble companion walks beside you ~ Unknown
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post #2 of 16 Old 06-10-2012, 01:06 PM
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The last time I dealt with heaves was in the 1970's -- we were still giving heavy horses people cough syrup back then. Much has changed

If you already haven't run across this link, it's a good read that talks about treatments and also changing the food regimen to something pelletized that still has vitamins/minerals in it. A ration balancer might be a good choice.

Heaves in horses: a way forward - dealing with COPD (Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease) - Horse health problems and articles - Horsetalk.co.nz - equestrian news and horse health information

It also state that studies have shown some horses have gone right back into "asthma attacks" 90 minutes after they were brought under control.

It sounds like you're doing every thing you can, so it's going to be a matter of finding what keeps your horse, in your environment, under control.

When winter gets here, soaking hay won't be fun unless you live in Florida or Southern California.

They do make hay steamers specifically for steaming the dust and pollen out of hay for heavy horses.

Hay steamers have been in the UK for awhile but the U.S. companies are fairly new.

This is just one link I found. Home | Happy Horse Products USA

If your dad is handy, he could easily make one.

make your own hay steamer - Horse and Man

Again, a hay steamer is not the Saving Grace for a horse with COPD; it's just a easier way out of cleaning the hay without having to soak it; especially in the winter

Hope this helps:)
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post #3 of 16 Old 06-11-2012, 07:45 AM Thread Starter
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Thanks so much Walkin! I never thought of steaming the hay -- that would be a definite lifesaver in the winter! Dad and I were just discussing what fun soaking hay is going to be in January... No such luck as living in FL or CA, lol. Building a steamer ourselves looks like it'd definitely be the way to go! That's an excellent informational link, too; I'm forwarding it to my dad to read as well. He's not terribly horsey himself, and he'd never even heard of a horse having anything like asthma or COPD before this started this spring. I'm so glad I'm done with school and will be around full time again to manage this properly.

Dad and I are thinking that the proximate cause of both attacks is outside dust -- both occurred shortly after he came in from afternoon turnout on comparatively hot and dry days following long spells without rain. He has a habit of walking the fenceline facing the house and barn when it gets close to feeding time and he knows I'm coming, and has a path there and a patch by the gate beaten to bare dirt. It's really very dry here right now; we haven't had more than the briefest of nuisance sprinkles for nearly two weeks now, when normally we have a hard time getting three days in a row without a downpour to cut hay. We're all used to ankle-deep mud, not dust, haha.

Scout was back to normal as of last inspection last night; no flaring nostrils, no wheezing, and the visible "breathing action" moving back up toward his chest rather than in his belly/abdomen. He had a few bouts of coughing yesterday, each one milder than the last. I'm heading out right now to do morning chores and get Scout out in the pasture while there's still plenty of dew on the ground to keep any of that dust down.

What have you found the worst seasons are for flare ups? It seems like each would have its own hazards -- high tree and grass pollen in the spring, lack of rain in the summer, cold dry air and diminished turnout in winter... Obviously good common sense preventative measures rule, but is there a season (or region) where even the general outdoor environment can be a problem? Or does that vary from case to case?

Thank you again!

A stubborn horse walks behind you, an impatient one in front of you, but a noble companion walks beside you ~ Unknown
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post #4 of 16 Old 06-11-2012, 11:36 AM
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My last horse was diagnosed as having advanced heaves after I sold him to his current owner. In the three years I owned him, I NEVER saw a single second of anything to concern me. His new owner, as well as his original owner, both feed round bales. It sounds like you are not, but I do feed my hay spread out in numerous small piles to simulate grazing, keep them mobile and reduce dust.

A friend of mine moved her gelding here because of how we feed when her BO refused to feed anything other than rounds. Her gelding quickly reduced his symptoms, within a week showing nothing at all. She rides that horse HARD, on a daily basis. He is a former sulky racer and loves her pace.

We are quite dry where we live, though our pasture has a lot of dense brush that offers all the shelter they need. It also seems to cut down on the amount of open dirt/dust.

Could you put some kind of dust-free footing down on the the high-traffic zones? Crushed granite is a popular driveway surface here because it's cheaper than traditional limestone gravel and produces much less dust. It's a blue-ish colour. Another advantage of gravel is that it really works well to toughen up their feet (though, I imagine that with all that arid climate, you may not have an issue, lol!).

For myself, turnout 24/7 has completely erradicated symptoms of the disease. But I don't really have a lot of dusty places that anyone enjoys hanging out in. Shelter buildings do tend to be chased by dust-bowls, don't they? Maybe you can build a mobile one that you can pull around the pasture with a truck to keep the footing from degrading?
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post #5 of 16 Old 06-11-2012, 11:40 AM
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Forgot to add that our horses have turnout year-round, whether it's +30C or -40C. They adapt accordingly and love it.
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post #6 of 16 Old 06-11-2012, 12:20 PM
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Originally Posted by Scoutrider View Post
What have you found the worst seasons are for flare ups? It seems like each would have its own hazards -- high tree and grass pollen in the spring, lack of rain in the summer, cold dry air and diminished turnout in winter... Obviously good common sense preventative measures rule, but is there a season (or region) where even the general outdoor environment can be a problem? Or does that vary from case to case?

Thank you again!
Back when I was caring for my grandad's heavy horse, there didn't seem to be any particular season as anything with dust in it (including environment and the barn) could set him off.

I don't have a clue if herbs would help your horse BUT:

I have one horse who has dust/mold/pollen allergies and is prone to coughing during the warm months. I could see him headed for heaves if I'm not careful with him.

I have him on "allergy herbal blend" from herbs4horses.com.

Equine Allergy Herbal Blend: stronger immune system for horses Herbal Remedies for Horses including Natural Equine Supplements for Laminitis and Founder in Horses- Herbs For Horses This stuff works miracles on him. He's been on it, seasonally, since 2006; I think that's when I started him. When our summers get really dry and miserable hot, I double the dose.

This company also sells MoLung. Herbal Remedies for Horses including Natural Equine Supplements for Laminitis and Founder in Horses- Herbs For Horses

I don't have a clue if that would help your horse; you'd have to research it somewhere besides the herbs4horses web site.

If you decide to try one or both of these products, I would ask for a one pound trial sample as these products are 100% pure (no fillers), therefore not cheap.

I have been doing business with herbs4horses since 2004 and can say they are very ethical & helpful, and delivery is very fast.

Without putting your horse on drugs, which would be forever, this is the only thing I can think of that might help reduce his symptoms, along with clean hay and keeping his environment as dust-free as is humanly possible.

I also agree with not feeding roundbales, which I know you don't
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post #7 of 16 Old 06-11-2012, 01:43 PM
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I got a horse a few months ago and the first really nice, warm weekend we had, he started to cough. There was a little bit of mucous at first, but especially as it developed, it was really just a cough. I tried AniHist for the first week and a half or so, but it continued to worsen during that time.

I had my vet examine my horse and she agreed with what I had been thinking based on conversations with my BO and other horse-savvy friends- allergies, but not heaves, luckily. I stopped the AniHist (as it wasn't helping), started watering his hay, and added Cough Free to his diet. Cough Free is an herbal supplement, and I didn't think much of it at first, but between it and the watered hay, his cough stopped within 3 or 4 days.

My BO also suggested using "silver water" (aka colloidal silver), which she swears by and makes for several of the other horses who have allergies. Since my horse's problem resolved with the 2 changes I mentioned above, I haven't tried it.
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post #8 of 16 Old 06-13-2012, 08:55 PM
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I'm so happy to see this post, although very sorry for your & your horse's situation, because me & mine are in one very similar! Before I forget to mention it... the second attack your horse had makes sense, because the steroid shots apparently wear off in 3-4 weeks (according to my vet).

I moved my horse to a new barn about a month and a half ago, and she started wheezing within about two weeks of getting there. Bang - diagnosed with heaves two weeks later. She got a steroid shot and is on Clenbuterol (a bronchodilator), and her breathing seems perfect (to me) now. We also got a lot of rain which has helped with the dust; we hadn't had any for the whole first month she was at the new place so it was pretty much a desert around here - definitely didn't help my poor girl.

My vet thinks the heaves was brought on by a batch of moldy hay (round bales), which I can't say I agree with because a) I never saw any bad hay, and b) the new barn is soooo well-maintained, I really can't picture the BO permitting bad hay to be put out. My research has lead me to believe that my horse's heaves was brought on by a combination of the dust, and round bales being fed in "hay houses" (I can't find any pictures online but they're a big plastic house that sits over top of the round bale and the horses stick their heads in the windows to eat). Honestly, before my research, I had no idea about round bales being so terrible, especially for heavey horses or those sensitive to dust. And especially in these stupid hay houses - I thought they were such a good idea when I first saw them but now I think they're just death traps! NO ventilation of dust whatsoever. Our old barn was VERY run down and it would definitely not shock me to find out that there was a mold issue there, but the round bales there weren't in these hay-house-death-traps so maybe that helped...? My horse never had ANY breathing problems there though - so confusing!

I know that the best thing for my horse would be to feed soaked square bales, but that service is not offered at my new barn, which I love, and really don't want to leave. And to be honest, I don't really feel a pressing need to move since my horse is actually doing fine while on medication. However, if she gets ANY worse, I will go on a hunt for a barn in the area that will hand-pick each speck of dust out of my girl's hay if necessary!!!

Oh and my horse is also kept outside 24/7, regardless of the weather (with appropriate shelter provided).

Scoutrider - I'm sorry I didn't offer much advice here (and sorry for the novel-in-reply-to-your-novel), but I just wanted to let you know that we feel your pain and wish you all the best!!!!! Please keep us updated, and feel free to PM me if you'd like!
(Re-reading my response, it is SO poorly organized it's making my university essay-writing brain cringe)

Last edited by foreveramber; 06-13-2012 at 08:58 PM.
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post #9 of 16 Old 06-14-2012, 11:08 AM Thread Starter
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Thanks all for the replies, suggestions, and advice!!

I had no idea that the steroid shot would stay in his system for that long!! That does make sense that he would have another episode after the steroids wore off. His second attack was almost exactly 5 weeks after the first; 34 days. There was no buildup to the second attack, though, no increase in coughing or other indicators that anything was wearing off. Just normal breathing, and then next trip out to the barn about an hour later he was having labored breathing.

I'm fairly certain that the whole condition was triggered by our hay over last winter. Winter before last, we started buying round bales, parking them in the barn, and peeling hay off of them for each feeding. The horses were absolutely NOT eating the round bales the way that seems to be the common denominator among so many heaves cases (free access, noses buried in the center of the bale, etc.); the bale was kept well away from the stalls, and each feed's ration pulled off and placed on the floor in the corner of the stall at feeding time, just like flakes from square bales. In the spring, we'd go back to square bales for convenience. We were very careful; rejected bales that weren't excellent quality and all that, but apparently we weren't careful enough. The thing that doesn't add up with the blaming the hay theory is that the coughing and heaves attacks only started a good two weeks after we switched back to high quality square bales this spring. We are, of course, done with round bales fed in any context whatsoever...

I've had Scout for three years last month, and this is the first time he's ever had so much as a hiccup in that time. I have read a couple of places that horses that are going to be sensitive generally start showing symptoms around age 8 or so, and Scout's right in that age range. I've met a few heaves cases in the past, granted all in their late teens, and they tended to cough more or less constantly. Those owners never mentioned dealing with anything like these asthma attack-like episodes. I'm guessing that those horses were showing more of the long-term effects of the condition?

We're on day 5 since his second attack, and there was no coughing at all yesterday (I'm not with him 24/7, he may have when I wasn't there, but I'm around the barn and pasture enough if he was having even minor coughing I'd have heard something), and nothing but normalcy this morning. He's walking, trotting, and cantering in the pasture, some other "antics," so he's obviously feeling pretty good. After he runs or plays up, he settles down pretty quickly, respiration all normal, no coughing, hardly any indication that he'd been doing anything more strenuous than standing around. I'm planning on popping the saddle on and taking him for an easy ride this afternoon. I'm also working him up to staying outside overnight; he's used to being "tucked in" for the night, and being left out late in the dark seems to confuse him a little, but, especially as agreeable as the weather is supposed to be, it's definitely in the best interest of his lungs that he spend the night outside. I'm sure the big baby will adapt, lol.

Thank you all so much for your replies, suggestions, and advice!! I really appreciate you sharing your experiences, and I'm glad that the thread has been helpful to you, foreveramber! I'm so sorry you and your girl are dealing with this, too. I'll look into the herbal options, and see about the possibility of putting down a truckload of gravel in the dusty patch by the gate. I'll most definitely keep you guys updated, and I'll be keeping you in my thoughts.

Thanks again, so much!!

A stubborn horse walks behind you, an impatient one in front of you, but a noble companion walks beside you ~ Unknown
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post #10 of 16 Old 06-14-2012, 12:18 PM
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Scout, copd is inflammation of the airways. This can be triggered by molds, dust, hay dust, etc. If, like us, you've had a lot of rain the molds could be triggering this. Can you not run temporary electric wire or ribbon from his stall to the pasture? If you can get wheat straw it is a superior dustless bedding for his stall. It is the inflammation that causes the coughing which may or may not produce mucous.
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