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Spring, but also autumn brings what Chinese medicine calls “wind diseases” with it. One of them is the common cold. The first horse in the stable starts coughing and / or has a nasal discharge and within a few days half the stable is sick. Horses are like humans and a cold like this just needs to be overcome. The best home remedies help with this:

– Rest –

It doesn’t always have to be in a seperate stable, strolling around the paddock is fine too. But no riding, lunging or group stress. The horse can move if it wants, but it doesn’t have to. ‘Forced’ movement should only be done after complete healing! Otherwise, chronic damage to the respiratory tract or heart may remain.

– Keep warm –

Most horses are well able to keep themselves warm and do not need to be wrapped in thick blankets, not even when they have a cold. However, if they are out the paddock, there should always be some kind of windbreak (stable, wall, stack of wood, bushes/trees) with enough space for the horse to stand behind it. If this is not possible, you should think about a thin rain rug that offers wind protection. Of course, don’t put your coughing horse outside when it rains, but leave it in the dry if possible.

– Expectorant herbs –

There are various herbal mixtures for horses, e.g. the OKAPI cough herbs. You can infuse the herbs as tea and offer them lukewarm with a spoonful of honey, just like you would for yourself. In some cases, OKAPI liquorice extract can also be given, especially if a dry cough persists after the acute symptoms have healed. The liquorice extract has an anti-inflammatory effect on the still irritated mucous membranes.

Cough Herbs
© Okapi GmbH

– Feed sulfur –

Organic sulfur (MSM) helps the horse produce enough cysteine, which is needed to build the natural mucus barrier in the airways. This not only liquefies bacterial congestion in the respiratory tract so that it can be coughed up, but the respiratory mucosa can also heal faster, which counteracts a new infection at the same time.

– Inhaling –

It doesn’t have to be the mobile luxury inhaler or the brine chamber. For a simple cold, you can first take a large rubber bucket and fill it with boiling water (with or without table salt) at the bottom. An inverted colander in the bucket prevents the horse from dipping its nose into the hot water. Fill the bucket with hay on top of the colander so the horse can eat from it in peace.

A kitchen towel on the noseband of the halter helps ensure that the rising steam is directed well into the nostrils. Inhaling once a day will help clear mucus and heal the airway irritation. Of course you can also use a professional inhaler or the brine chamber, if you have this luxury in the barn. After inhaling, a brisk walk is often good for coughing up the dissolved mucus.

– No cough-suppressing measures for cold infections! –

Colds are usually accompanied by congestion in the respiratory tract. Coughing is a natural reflex to push that phlegm out. If you suppress the cough, the mucus settles in the lower respiratory tract and causes the problem to become chronic there. Therefore, please ask about the effect, especially before administering medication and also with herbal mixtures. Anything that suppresses the urge to cough or expands the bronchi should only be given in an emergency, when the horse is at risk of developing a bronchospasm (“asthma attack”) and being unable to breathe. Otherwise, the horse may and should cough in order to cough up the mucus and thus heal the infection sustainably.

– Patience –

Most horse owners want the cough to go away in two or three days after first appearing. But anyone who has ever had a bad cold knows that it doesn’t happen that quickly. Even if the acute symptoms often subside after a few days, the cough in particular often persists for a long time. It’s the same with horses – and there’s no reason to panic if a horse coughs for several weeks. If you are patient and stick with the measures described above, a normal cold in the horse will usually heal on its own.

If fever flares occur or if the horse is dull for a long time, you should definitely consult a veterinarian. This can be pneumonia or other diseases that belong in the hands of professionals.

When horses cough, one should always differentiate between different types of cough:

Coughs caused by respiratory infections are common in autumn and spring. In such cases, one horse usually starts and within a few days half the stable is coughing. The horses are often weak and listless, may have a high temperature and fever and cough during or even independently of the hay feeding. These cases can be treated well with “home remedies”. It’s important to loosen the mucus and let it be coughed up.

Horses eating hay together
© Adobe Stock/acceptfoto

Look into the cause and create a targeted remedy

Allergic cough does not affect half the stable, but usually only the affected horse. It is often triggered by moldy hay quality – but there are also pollen allergies or even animal hair allergies among horses. It should always be questioned why the immune system was in allergy readiness.

Respiratory allergies are often associated with various causes, which can include permanent stress as well as a (long-standing) respiratory problem. But intestinal disorders (chronic inflammation of the intestinal mucosa) are also possible, among other things..

Of course, you can’t cure an allergic cough with just a few herbs. Instead, the hay must first be steamed to kill the mold so that it can no longer shed spores. Only watering the hay is usually not enough. This switches off the trigger for the cough stimulus In the case of pollen allergy, a nose net often helps when riding or in the pasture (although this does not keep pollen out, the horses often show improved symptoms). In the case of animal hair allergy sufferers, the triggering animals (dogs, cats) must be kept as far away from the stable as possible.

You then have to look for the causes of the allergy readiness of the immune system. If it is possible to stop this, then there is often a chance in the long term to regulate the allergy down so far that the horse has a good quality of life.

There are also horses with chronic irritation of the respiratory tract, which can be caused by chronic infections of the paranasal sinuses or the air sacs or partial mucus sacs in the lower respiratory tract. They can be the result of delayed infections, but tooth root suppuration or inappropriate therapies during a cough infection (cortisone, bronchodilators) can also be the cause. If these are not treated adequately, a respiratory allergy can be a secondary aggravating factor.

Here, too, it is important that the mucus is loosened and can be coughed up. This is usually only possible with an inhalation device or brine nebulization and similar supporting measures.

Many horses “allergic to hay dust” are not primarily allergic, but only secondarily This often has to do either with a delayed infection (see above) or with dry airways due to a lack of sulfur. Sulfur is needed to form cysteine in the airways, which in turn is needed for the natural defense barrier of the mucous membranes. If there is no sulphur, the natural protective layer of mucus cannot be built up sufficiently. This results in dry airways and a dry cough follows. Such irritated mucous membranes can then be followed by a secondary infection or even an allergy.

Take symptoms seriously, but don’t just “push them away”.

Therefore, a cough should always be taken seriously as a symptom of the disease and, if possible, you should consult a competent specialist. The therapy should not only consist of “getting rid of” the cough, as that is just suppressing it. Cortisone or bronchodilators are not recommended. Rather, it is about finding the cause and treating it in a targeted manner.

If the cause is a cold infection, the cough is necessary and important in order to be able to adequately cough up the mucus formed in the airways caused by the pathogens. Expectorant measures (herbs, inhalation) support the process.

If this coughing stimulus is suppressed in such cases, it can become chronic due to mucus clogging in the lower respiratory tract or even chronic sinusitis, which should be avoided at all costs.

It should actually go without saying that your horse shouldn’t live in hermetically sealed stables, but rather allow him plenty of fresh air, and not just with a chronic cough. Therefore, “stable rest” is often counterproductive when you have a cold.

Fresh air and moderate exercise in the group (like in paddock trail) tend to help here. Only increased stress, such as riding, should be avoided. Otherwise, a cold as result of the stress can also lead to heart problems.

Horse in beautiful evening atmosphere
© Adobe Stock/ Nadine Haase

When inhaling with a “homemade” inhaler (bucket, hot salt water, colander, hay, kitchen towel) it should be noted that very large mist droplets are formed in which only a small amount of salt is dissolved, which remain in the upper respiratory tract when inhaled. This can have a very good supportive effect on a simple cold cough that sits in the upper respiratory tract.

If you are dealing with chronic sinus infections or mucus sacs in the lower respiratory tract, a real (mobile) inhaler is recommended, which not only produces a finer mist, but also nebulizes a higher concentration of salt.

If you inhale while moving, this inhalant also gets into the lower airways to moisten the mucous membranes and loosen mucus. After inhaling, always exercise the horse in a relaxed way so that the loosened mucus can be coughed up.