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A disease of the lower airways causing cough and exercise intolerance in horses

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Do you notice these problems while working?

Your horse seems fine but suddenly starts coughing

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Your racehorse reaches the 3/4 mile mark (6 furlongs) at the head of the pack, then hits a wall, struggling for the finish line

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Click here to see video of a racehorse showing signs of SAID



Exercise intolerance.


Mucus in the airways

Changes in Performance

  • Riders complain that their horse is more "lethargic", "less responsive", "sluggish", "slowing down", or "exercise intolerant."

  • Exercise intolerance develops over days to weeks and gets progressively worse without treatment. Racehorses drop a class or two and finish poorly. Typically, the horses race well until the 3/4 mile (6 furlongs) when they "hit a wall."

  • The heat really knocks out horses with SAID. This might relate to the role of the respiratory tract in cooling, lack of oxygen, or decreased fitness. Either way, a horse with SAID has a tendency to work poorly in the heat.

  • SAID is recognized earlier in horses doing the most aerobic work and recognized later in horses that are not pushing the full range of their aerobic capacities. Many jumpers and dressage horses can work for years with SAID until it becomes severe. Eventers, endurance competition horses, and racers can not.

Clinical Changes

  • Coughing is often reported in SAID. The typical cough is intermittent, deep, and productive (e.g. some horses are seen 'smacking their lips' after coughing spells). Some horses cough in a series of spasms, seemingly unable to dislodge mucus from their airways.

  • Lung sounds are usually normal, but in more advanced cases there can be crackles or wheezes heard throughout the lung fields. A rebreathing bag should be used to stimulate deeper breathing for auscultation.

  • When scoped, horses with SAID have small white to gray globs or clear to white streams of mucus visible in their windpipe. After exercise, this is more readily seen.

  • All the signs tend to be worse in the spring and summer, suggesting an allergic or atmospheric cause in most. Dust sensitive horses may also show signs in the winter, when they are stabled for long hours.

  • SAID can be distinguished from contagious/ infectious causes of cough by the lack of fever, normal blood work, and an otherwise healthy looking horse.


Signs that Your Horse's Condition Has Progressed to COPD

  • Acute attacks of labored breathing, severe coughing, nasal flaring, distressed appearance, and 'heaving' of the abdomen
  • Development of heave lines
  • Difficulty on expiration

If this sounds like your horse, remove him/her from the proximity of hay, which can harbor mold spores that precipitate the attacks. Call your veterinarian immediately.



Above: Pronounced nasal flaring in a "heavy" horse

Left: Right-click for close-up video of horse's abdomen, showing heave line during respiration


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