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Did you know the effects of smoke on horses are similar to the effects on humans?

January 7, 2020

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Smoke can cause irritation of the eyes and respiratory tract, aggravation of conditions like heaves (recurrent airway obstruction) and reduced lung function. High concentrations of particulates can cause persistent cough, increased nasal discharge, wheezing and increased physical effort in breathing. Particulates can also alter the immune system and reduce the ability of the lungs to remove foreign materials, such as pollen and bacteria, to which horses are typically exposed.

With hazardous levels of air quality across much of NSW, it is impossible to escape the smoke. We have had horse owners asking us how they can protect their horse’s from air pollution. Here is some excellent information published from US Davis Veterinary Medicine after the 2017 California fires.

Smoke is made up of carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide, particulate matter, soot, hydrocarbons and other organic substances including nitrogen oxides and trace minerals. The composition of smoke depends on what is burned.

In general, particulate matter is the major pollutant of concern in wildfire smoke. Particulate is a general term used for a mixture of solid particles and liquid droplets found in the air. Particulates from smoke tend to be very small (less than one micron in diameter), which allows them to reach the deepest airways within the lung. Consequently, particulates in smoke are more of a health concern than the coarser particles that typically make up road dust.

Because little information is available to horse owners and equine veterinarians on the effects on horses of breathing air laden with particulates, UC Davis equine specialists are offering these suggestions to serve as a general guide.

• Limit exercise when smoke is visible. Don’t have your horse do activities that increase the airflow in and out of the lungs. This can trigger bronchoconstriction (narrowing of the small airways in the lungs).

• Provide plenty of fresh water close to where your horse eats. Horses drink most of their water within 2 hours of eating hay, so having water close to the feeder increases water consumption. Water keeps the airways moist and facilitates clearance of inhaled particulate matter. This means the windpipe, large airways and small airways can move the particulate material breathed in with the smoke. Dry airways make particulate matter stay in the lung and air passages.

• Limit dust exposure by feeding dust-free hay or soak hay before feeding. This reduces the particles in the dust such as mould, fungi, pollens and bacteria that may have difficulty being cleared from the lungs.

• If your horse is coughing or having difficulty breathing, have your horse examined by a veterinarian who can help determine the difference between a reactive airway from smoke and dust versus a bacterial infection and bronchitis or pneumonia. If your horse has a history of having heaves or recurrent airway problems, there is a greater risk of secondary problems such as bacterial pneumonia.

• If your horse has primary or secondary problems with smoke-induced respiratory injury, you should contact your veterinarian, who can prescribe specific treatments such as intravenous fluids, bronchodilator drugs, nebulization or other measures to facilitate hydration of the airway passages. Your veterinarian may also recommend blood tests or other tests to determine whether a secondary bacterial infection has arisen and is contributing to the current respiratory problem.

• Give your horse ample time to recover from smoke-induced airway insult. Airway damage resulting from wildfire smoke takes 4 to 6 weeks to heal. Ideally, plan on giving your horse that amount of time off from the time when the air quality returns to normal. Attempting exercise may aggravate the condition, delay the healing process and compromise your horse’s performance for many weeks or months.

Read more at https://tiny.cc/VetMedUSDavis

Credit UC Davis Vet Med, Paulick Report.

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