How to keep your horse healthy during the winter months

How to keep your horse healthy during the winter months

Rachel Mullins on 9th Feb 2021

Keeping your Horse’s Respiratory System Healthy during Winter

Does your stable routine change during the year to manage your horse’s respiratory health? As the weather gets more extreme globally, with hotter summers & winters getting colder. The air circulating in our barns can contain an excess of airborne particles that are potential airway allergens and irritants and this changes with the seasons. Risks of impaired respiratory health are those that can especially be avoided by improving air quality in the stable or using innovative solutions. Specifically, the particles that often originates from feed, bedding or manure or from growth on stable walls, such as bacteria and fungi can be found in high amounts in the stable air (1). We as horse owners can help our horses be healthy in extreme Winter conditions by adapting our stable management routine slightly.

Horse health in the Winter

We need to adapt our stable management routine during Winter to help keep our horse’s respiratory health in top condition. If you have not already adapted your stable management routine, this article will help you keep your horse’s respiratory health in top form by preparing your stable for healthy breathing. Here are, 4 Actions to take in your stable this Winter.

1 Ensure Quality Ventilation

A balanced ventilation system facilitates the distribution of fresh air around the stable and usually consists of fans and a dust system. If your stable is old, you may not have the appropriate ventilation system in place to allow the circulation of fresh air and your horse’s respiratory system could be at risk of irritation. Ensure quality ventilation by leaving the windows open during the day and night. Although some may argue that cold air is bad for the horse to breathe and makes them cold, the truth is that the cold air from outside is usually much healthier than the air the horse breathes in from the stable equipment.

Stable ventilation

You may feel that the horses need to remain warm during the night and so the solution is to close the windows. This puts the horse’s respiratory system in danger as dust and ammonia build up when inadequate ventilation is present. Horses live outdoors naturally and although they are often body clipped and blanketed during this time of the year, studies show that domestication of horses had little effect on the adjustment mechanisms for temperature in relation to environmental conditions (2).

Airborne particles are cleared more efficiently at higher ventilation such that there are 27 air changes per hour (7). If you have concerns about your stable’s ventilation system, you can read more about it or you can check out the innovative equine nebulizer Flexineb to help manage y our horse’s respiratory health. Medications to treat common upper and lower respiratory infections can be administered to the horse using a horse nebulizer mask providing targeted medication delivery to the respiratory tract, these include Antibiotics, Bronchodilators, Corticosteroids and Mucolytics, we can provide a list of medications which are suitable for nebulisation in the Flexineb E3 via consultation, have your veterinarian contact us directly to access this list. The Flexineb mask produces very fine mist of aerosolized drug or natural therapy solution which is inhaled by the horse for respiratory treatment.

#2 Choose Bedding to Keep Dust Levels Low

The choice of bedding material is particularly important in cold climate conditions; where horses are kept most of the day and year indoors throughout their life (3). Scientific research shows the difference between peat and shavings used as bedding material in stables. Although respiratory symptoms increased from both bedding types in the beginning, the health status of the horse’s respiratory system in the peat bedding group returned to the initial level in the end of the trial but horses bedded with wood shavings continued to be symptomatic of respiratory illness (3). It may be a good idea to replace wood shavings with crushed wood pellets since shavings have the highest results for bacterial contamination and crushed wood pellets have the lowest bacterial and fungal air contamination from a selection of straw, peat with shavings and crushed when results were drawn from arterial blood biochemistry tests and endoscopic evaluations of the upper respiratory tract (4).

Choose your horse’s bedding wisely

Although different bedding types suit different horses for many purposes, we understand there are many reasons an owner or a management team will choose one type over another within the stable. If it is not possible to change your bedding type, look at alternative solutions for managing respiratory health in your horse because regardless of bedding type, stalls with low ventilation have significantly higher ammonia levels than stalls with high ventilation (7). The use of an equine nebulizer such as the Flexineb, can help you manage the financial and medial management of your horse and their respiratory needs by allowing quick efficient delivery of medications and saline and allows your vet to utilize treatment plans that may save you money immediately.

#3 Sweep and Clean stalls when Horses are out

Haven’t you seen the dust rise in the stable as you skip out and add more bedding? Organic dust comes from hay, grain, wood pellets, straw, and livestock and is associated with your horse’s respiratory health. Organic dust includes molds, pollens, bacteria, pesticides, chemicals, feed and bedding particles, and animal particles including hair, dander, and droppings, these play a role in increased risk of inflammatory reactions and are associated with respiratory diseases.

Remove horses from the stalls when cleaning

Breathing in dust or other fine particles is unhealthy for both horses and humans. If you, a family member, or your horse has a respiratory issue, this should be a major consideration when you are selecting bedding materials. A Dutch study showed that higher levels of dust & microbial exposure were evident in the AM - most likely due to higher activity than in PM. As such, it would be advisable to put horses out in the AM & minimize yours and your horse’s exposure to these activities. (5).

Aerosol therapy offers the benefit of directly targeting the affected area of the respiratory tract all the way to the lungs. This method of targeted drug delivery is a very effective alternative method to delivering treatment medications orally or via injection. To protect & manage your horses respiratory issues, look into equine nebulization to ease respiratory symptoms from your horse.

#4 Implement Biosecurity Protocols

The existing human population has never undergone such high intensity training in biosecurity measures this year as we learned to face the devastating effects of COVID-19. As you know, it may be flu season in your stable. Influenza is endemic in the horse populations of Europe, North America, and Canada a disease that affects the horse’s respiratory system. Thankfully, this can be prevented by strict vaccine protocols. An epidemiological study done in Ontario found equine influenza virus to be the causal agent in 56% of 23 outbreaks of acute viral respiratory disease investigated over a 2-year period (6).