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Smoke inhalation in horses

With the recent bushfires that Australia has had, smoke inhalation in horses is all too much a reality for a large number of people.  Even those not directly affected by the fires may have been affected by the huge amounts of smoke travelling over the country.

Wether it’s today or a few years to come, it’s important to know how smoke can affect your horses and what to do to help.

Firstly, what is smoke? Bushfire smoke is a combination of carbon dioxide and carbon monoxide with hydrocarbons, soot and other organic matter thrown in.  Depending on what is burning though there can also be stronger chemicals such as sulphur dioxide, hydrogen cyanide, nitrogen oxides and ammonia. These particles cause irritation to the eyes, nose and respiratory tract.  If your eyes are burning or you are coughing your horse will feel the same.  The most severe result of smoke inhalation is a reduction of oxygen exchange through the lungs but more commonly it causes inflammation and irritation of the airways, eyes and nasal passages, and in more sever cases the lungs.  The affects of smoke inhalation won’t go away as soon as the smoke does either but can hang around for 4-6wks after the event.

What to look out for?

  • Any difficulty in breathing such as wheezing, noises when they breathe or change in respiration rate etc
  • Coughing
  • Elevated heart rate
  • Nasal discharge
  • Watery eyes
  • Temperature changes
  • Lethargy and tiredness
  • Dehydration
  • Anxiety

Things you can do to help

  • Make sure the horse has access to fresh cool water at all times.
  • If you are struggling to breathe in the smoky conditions your horse will be as well so limit exercise in conditions such as these.  UC Davis recommends that horses return to work no less then 2wks after they’ve been exposed to smoke.
  • Wet all feeds down and soak hay to limit dust that might be inhaled and irritate already tender airways
  • Monitor your horses feed intake.  Bushfires can obviously affect pasture, so if your horse is no longer able to graze make sure you substitute for this with adequate roughage.
  • If you are keeping your horse in a stable then fans to direct the smoke away from the horse or misters can help to make the air earthier to breathe.
  • If you feel your horse is particularly suffering you can buy equine nebulisers and smoke masks.
  • If you are not in an area experiencing severe heat, fly masks will help to protect the eyes from irritants.

Supplements for Lung Health

Any damage to lung tissue can have a lasting effect on lung health.  There is not a lot of research on supplements to support lung health and they are more aimed at horses that live in polluted regions, but still, supplements you can feed to help protect lung health include:

  • Omega-3 fatty acids – help resolve eosinophilic inflammation
  • Vitamin C – usually decreased in horses with airway inflammation
  • MSM
  • Quercitin – flavanol with antioxidant properties
  • Garlic
  • Certain herbs such as Mullein, Peppermint & Chamomile can be soothing.  For more herbs that can help consult a herbalist.
  • Equine respiratory supplements – there are a whole lot available from different companies such as Kelto Pulmonaid, Potties cough mixture, Spectrum respiratory power, Stance respirite so talk to your local stock feeder about what might suit your needs.

The quicker you act the quicker you can help your horse.  Smoke particles can be very small and travel to the furthest parts of the lungs.  If you are at all concerned that your horse may be suffering from smoke damage or  is struggling to breathe  contact  your vet ASAP as they can provide treatments such as nebulisation, bronchodilators and more.  If you are in the actual bushfire area superheated air can also cause severe issues in the horses respiratory tract and pulmonary tissues and these horses should be seen to by a vet.