The Equine Respiratory system shuttles air to and from a horses’ lungs where respiration, the exchange of oxygen for carbon dioxide, occurs. This is a highly specialized organ system that can move large volumes of air in and out of the lungs each minute. The respiratory system is made up of the upper and lower airways. The upper airway contains the nasal passage, pharynx, larynx, and trachea. The lower airway hosts the lungs.
Did you know the horse does not breathe through its mouth and nose like we do?
Your horse can only breathe through its nostrils. The nose and the mouth are entirely separate - a horse will only breathe through their mouth if there is something wrong with the soft palate that separates the mouth from the nose.
Fun fact: At rest the horse inhales approximately 16 gallons per minute. At the gallop this increases to a phenomenal 600 gallons per minute!
The lungs are the most essential organs of the respiratory system; the rest are passages carrying air into the lungs. In the lungs, oxygen is removed by diffusion into the blood. It’s important to be aware of the potential respiratory system problems that are found in horses to best care for your horse. Any problem with the structure or function of the respiratory system can cause exercise intolerance, poor performance, and ultimately negatively impact quality of life.
Common Respiratory System Dysfunctions
Upper respiratory tract infections
Recurrent airway obstruction (heaves)
Allergic airway disease
Signs of Respiratory Disorder
Discharge from the nose
Coughing that may be dry or may include mucus or blood
Shortness of breath
Signs of pain
6 Best Barn Management Tips for Better Breathing
Considerable short and long-term demands are placed on the equine lungs. Special attention must be paid to the quality of the air, which our horses breathe. Pharmaceuticals will continue to play an important role in the treatment of respiratory problems but prevention is better than cure.
Wet all hay that is fed indoors and feed close to ground level or feed a good quality, low dust alternative forage product.
Remove the horse from the barn when mucking.
Sprinkle the barn aisle with water when sweeping or raking.
Use a quality bedding and muck out daily (avoid deep litter systems).
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