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