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Heaves in Horses

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Heaves is a common equine respiratory condition most frequently diagnosed in horses 8 years of age and older. Also called recurrent airway obstruction, heaves is similar to asthma in humans. Inhalation of allergens and irritants that exist in the horse’s environment cause inflammation, mucus accumulation, and constriction of the horse’s airways. Common allergens and irritants that induce RAO include mold spores from straw bedding and hay, small molecules, and other irritants like ammonia.

During the early stages, horses with heaves tend to cough and might also be exercise-intolerant. After a year or two, the horse will have an increased respiratory effort. If the condition is severe enough, a heavy horse will also lose weight because of the difficulty of eating while trying to breathe.