I own a 16 (17 in April) year old Standardbred mare. She began life as a harness racer, and once retired, spent 10 years on broodmare duty. She is on semi-retirement with me... light riding (walk, trot, very occasional canter), no jumping and no showing. She is kept outside 24/7 and is forked hay twice daily in the winter. In the summer, she is provided free choice grazing. I also supplement her with a good quality ration balancer and a handful of oats whenever I need to trick her into taking medication or bribe her in from the field. She is a very easy keeper and looks great for her age.
However, she has what appears to be a chronic cold. She sounds congested and has occasional white discharge from her nose. I have not heard her cough since October when I bought her. Her appetite is good, she is lively and has never appeared lethargic. She loves to trot and whenever I catch her from the field after watching her trot away from me for 10+ minutes, I never notice labored breathing... just the normal stuffy sounds. No wheezing, just plugged nose.
I was in Mexico this past week and I returned to find that my barn owner had asked the vet to look at my horse because she noticed that my mare was having difficulties breathing after galloping around in the big field and she was dripping white snot. Vanna was moved to a smaller turnout in an effort to keep her from galloping and she was prescribed Dex and one another medication for one week. I don't have the vet's notes beside me, but I believe the other medication starts with a Q. This vet thinks we're dealing with heaves.
I had my vet out yesterday to do Vanna's teeth (which were great for a girl her age, says the vet) and she also questioned Vanna's loud breathing. She listened to her lungs, and seems to think my mare has a bit of scar tissue. She prescribed a steroid drug for three days to reduce the inflammation in her lungs. In addition, she recommended soaking Vanna's hay or switching her completely to cubes to see if that helps. Her feeling is that we're looking at a minor case of heaves.
Doing some research, I found that one of the common symptoms of heaves is coughing. My mare doesn't cough. She just flares her nostrils when breathing and sounds like she has a head cold. When she inhales, she sounds very much like someone trying to breathe through a plugged nose. I searched those symptoms and they point to an upper respiratory infection. Are heaves and a URI commonly confused with one another? Two vets says heaves, but every article I've read, every note I've read about Heaves say that the horses cough, sometimes very violently during a particularly strong attack. I know I should trust a vet's opinion, but I've had some experiences with other animals that cause me to question and research every diagnosis my animals receive. I'm a little skeptical by nature, and I don't like to mess around with my animals' health.
For those of you who have dealt with heaves or URIs in your horses, what were the symptoms? Is it possible that she could have scarring on her lungs from an infection earlier in her life that gets aggravated after galloping or extensive work? She was a racehorse and lived in a barn for much of her life, so it's entirely possible that her lungs have been compromised in some capacity... what can I do to help her in the long term?