Dry exercise-induced cough - WWYD until the vet comes?

VioletStripe

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Hi all,

Asking for some general advice per the title. Happy to have some speculation as to similar experiences, too - but very much waiting for the vet! Sorry this is going to be a long one, to be honest it's good for me to type it out as I am a) a nervous wreck about this and b) it helps be get my timeline together to speak with my vet....

My horse was off work during the start of lockdown due to the yard being shut to the general public, however he was kept ticking over with a few horse walking sessions a week. He is an overgrown, 13yo Connemara gelding.

I then started to bring him into work.. gosh, 5 or so weeks ago. Starting with just walking etc, and reasonably quickly progressed to some trot work after 2 weeks as he is out all day on a sloping hill in a herd of 7 boys (lunatics), and had been on the horse walker a lot. Here's where things started to get a bit strange... He would have a dry, occasional cough with the trotting, particularly uphill. It was whenever things started to get vaguely difficult cardio-wise. I would always bring back to walk, and the trot was for such short periods it wouldn't trigger more anyway. It's a dry cough, no mucus, no heaving, sneezing etc. He had before once in a blue moon done it before in some warm-ups, and to never to do it again - my old vet and old instructor referred to it as 'clearing the pipes' when he would start to settle and work long and low in the warm-up. It was a one-off very occasionally at the start of training sessions.

However now, 3 weeks on, it's more prevalent as we are trying to do more. At first since coming back into work it was happening around once in the sessions towards the start, which I always took as his old 'pipe clearing', even though it was more frequent as it happened in more sessions, I assumed since being out of work that would make sense, so left it a few weeks to see... It's now been 2/3 weeks and I feel like as the trot is going for longer, adding in the occasional burst of canter to build up, it is getting worse. It's whenever he starts to find it more difficult. So he will trot for a little longer before coughing as his fitness has improved, but then will start to cough, and from then on in the sessions he will cough more and more - canter is a no-go this week, really. So, I have decided to get the vet out as this is clearly not normal. I'm not pushing him unfairly beyond his fitness level IMO, I'm not hammering him so he is out of breath and puffing and wheezing away...

He has never had a problem before, and it seems to be more with finding things difficult - particularly if we are doing some hillwork, for example. It's never happened in walk (even uphill), or at rest at all - I think he coughed once at rest and that was after literally pushing his face into a dusty corner on the edge of my car when I had the boot open and had him standing next to me while I grabbed something - and in typical nosy Connemara fashion, he found a huge bit of dust and pollen on my dirty car to shove his nose into. It also doesn't matter if we are in the school, or out hacking, or if it has rained/is raining/is completely dry. He is ridden in a nose net and has been for years due to flies.

Management-wise nothing has changed, he is out all day on his slope with his merry band of lunatics. He comes in around 4, and then is fed damp Hifi with some pink powder. I exercise in the evenings after work, generally around 6 or 7 - also tend to on the weekends so I don't interrupt turnout and can make the most of light evenings in lockdown. Fabulous quality hay fed from the floor, and a very clean straw bed in a large barn which always has the doors at either end open. It's literally just come on since May. No coughing or wheezing inside, no mucus, or difficulty breathing either. I groom both in his stable and out, depending on how busy the yard is. Never a problem, no correlation to if he has been groomed inside or out either. Fully vaccinated and up to date with all the usual forms of saddle/physio/dentist - and in no way unwell, completely his usual nosy self. Despite the cough, he is absurdly keen as usual for exercise - he's not unwilling at all.


I will be ringing the vet on Monday for a visit at some point this week. My question is - since it is exercise-induced, would you continue to just walk, or stop everything completely? I will be asking to have his hay soaked, I would rather not switch to Haylage as he is at a lovely weight now and if I can't up his exercise to counter that then that's a pain... I suppose switching to shavings would be a good idea too, even though the majority of the barn are straw as well. I guess I could muzzle him to go out, and then feed haylage... it soaked hay or haylage better, generally? There are no outdoor stables to switch to, all are in barn set-ups.

So - thoughts on exercise or not? Anything else I can be doing in the meantime? Any similar experiences?
 

NinjaPony

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Rest until the vet comes. I speak from bitter experience, you don’t want to mess around with lungs. Despite all my best efforts, rest and medication, my Connemara’s lungs are permanently and terminally damaged and he is living on borrowed time.
Soak his hay, switch to shavings and get him out as much as possible, and then investigate ASAP.
 

meleeka

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I’d keep him ticking over but not do anything too strenuous for the time being, so probably stick to walk. Whatever it is is likely to be easily fixed by the vet when they come so try not to worry too much. It could be a simple virus which will simply run its course but I too would want to vet to examine, to rule out infection. Soaked hay for a few days should give an indication if it’s to do with dust. Mine stops pretty instantly once hay is soaked so it’s easy to work out what the cause is. As you say if the whole barn is on straw there’s not a great deal to be gained by switching to dust free shavings, but you could do that anyway since it will be easier on his lungs if you remove any possible irritants.
 
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Any other horses on the yard coughing? Both my little ponies picked up some virus a couple of months ago ( no idea how- they're kept at home, we were on lockdown, and there are no other horses within about a 3 mile radius) and they're still coughing on and off weeks later.
 

VioletStripe

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I will be switching to soaked hay immediately and wait for the vet's suggestions before switching to shavings - potentially later moving to an end stable next to the door as well, if they think it better.... Absolutely frantic at the moment thinking about it.

I don't believe there are other horses on the yard coughing, no...
 

CanteringCarrot

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My horse presented similar symptoms about 2 years ago. My vet did an allergy test and he's allergic to a variety of things including certain plants, grasses, mold, and dust. His mold and dust allergies were off the charts. So I bought him a Flexineb and began to treat him with a steroid, usually Pulimicort, but we did use Dexamethasone before (note: the risk of laminitis from Dex is reduced when the steroid is nebulized. The dose is also small and goes directly to the source of inflammation; the airway). I also used Atrovent as a brochodilator.

This approach/combo addresses inflammation and allows for the opening of the airway. I also had him scoped, and inflammation was relatively minor and mostly at the larynx. He's never had any "bad lung sounds" or anything with his lungs. No phlem, just a dry cough.

He also does not stand on straw. Only shavings, flax straw, or flax straw pellets. His hay is given to him wet.

His daily diet includes linseed (Omega 3's) and MSM. I haven't had to use the Flexineb in ages. As long as he's managed correctly, it's not needed for the most part. I've also given him Equistro Sekrosan liquid during a flare up.

You could start these changes such as bedding, wet hay, MSM and linseed to see what happens. Relatively harmless.

I did try this "Balsamic Air" product (note: do not nebulize) and I think it helped. My vet was really pushing it and during the early winter when my horse began coughing just a bit I gave him a syringe/dose of it prior to work for a few days, and the cough went away. Could have been coincidence, I don't know.

I'm usually of the mind to keep them in some exercise. Even if it's just a flat walk. If even that enduces a coughing fit, then there is def an issue and I'd lay off for a bit.

Best of luck moving forward with this and I hope it's something easily managed.
 

twiggy2

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I wouldn't do any work with him, once the lungs are damaged that's it the damage stays.
Hopefully it's is virus and given the chance to run its course and rest he will be as right as rain.
Soak hay, turn out as much as possible.
Is there grass in the field and is the field dry and dusty.q
Indoor stables are not great for horses due to the dust levels - I opened up the back of my last indoor stable to increase the air flow it made a huge difference.
 

VioletStripe

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I've texted my YM to discuss and update, and she hasn't noticed anything amiss with him in the field or stable at all during the day. Apparently there have been a few coughing horses on the yard with a little viral infection who have had the vet out - without seeing and chatting to people with the social distancing rules I guess I didn't hear about it. Fingers crossed that he is falling under the category... Vet will be out Monday, luckily there is a routine visit happening then already. Apparently they've all come up fine, so here's hoping.

Tonight, do you think gently walking out inhand in the flat fields for a graze and stretch with a nose net on would be safe? Or is that too much?
 

VioletStripe

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I wouldn't do any work with him, once the lungs are damaged that's it the damage stays.
Hopefully it's is virus and given the chance to run its course and rest he will be as right as rain.
Soak hay, turn out as much as possible.
Is there grass in the field and is the field dry and dusty.q
Indoor stables are not great for horses due to the dust levels - I opened up the back of my last indoor stable to increase the air flow it made a huge difference.
There's a very good thick grass covering, fields aren't overly dusty either as we have had good rain here - lots of drizzle on and off most days now. The ground has been reasonably hard throughout the dry May but now there is a bit of give. They're also at the bottom to halfway up a hill, so the moisture runs down too. It's really not a very dusty environment, and I ride around the turnout fields as well for hacking which is what makes little sense to me - there really isn't much dust around that I can see... and it's never while walking around or at rest, only when starting to trot more and canter.
 

clairefeekerry1

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I’ve just had the vet out as my boy started coughing. Apparently there are quite a few dry coughs around this year as the ground has been so dry. I’ve been soaking any hay and feeding it off the dry ground which seems to have helped. See what the vet says, hopefully nothing major
 

VioletStripe

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So nothing to overly worry about apparently - she thinks it's partly a bit of a bug, and partly the very dry and pollen-y atmosphere at the moment - apparently a lot of horses are in the same boat at the moment that she has seen. She gave his lungs a listen and while they are a little wheezy, there's not much to be heard.

She's started him on some oral medication (I want to say Clenbuterol?) which he is having 2 scoops in his feed of daily, and his happy for me to walk him out under saddle. After 3 or 4 days she thinks he will be right as rain again, so is happy for me to start upping the exercise from then. In the meantime, soaking hay and out as much as possible, and reasses after if he's not improved.

So, not panicking yet. Apparently one cough or two is beneficial in helping to clear out the tubes, as is very light exercise. More than that is when it gets to be a problem and when we need to think about next steps...
 
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