Our survey reveals that the biggest equine health problem is respiratory disease.

November 21 was World COPD Day. Every respiratory health organisation around the world is supporting this flagship day to help draw attention to one of the biggest and least recognised health threats that affects millions of people all over the planet.

Here at BEDMAX, we think this is also an unmissable opportunity to highlight the parallels between the scale and severity of the respiratory threat that affects both humans and horses.

As the British Lung Foundation puts it: ‘COPD, or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, makes it difficult for you to breathe, and you might find everyday tasks a real challenge. Millions of people across the UK have COPD and don’t even know it. They’re struggling with their symptoms and a lower quality of life. Their condition is progressing quickly because they’re not receiving treatment.

This is exactly the same situation facing horses and owners in the UK today. Thousands of horses are being treated for respiratory disease every year. But many times more horses are developing breathing conditions that may take years to show their symptoms, and their owners are not aware that this is happening to their much-loved horses.

The results from the BEDMAX 2018 Equine Health Survey have confirmed that by far the biggest equine health problem for stabled horses during the winter is respiratory disease.

Of the 908 owners who took part in this year’s survey, 120 reported that they had had to call the vet to treat respiratory problems, and their horses had been off work for between two weeks and three months as a result.

Putting yourself in your horse’s shoes

Looking at human forms of respiratory disease and how they are caused can help us understand what happens to horses.

Any horse owner or carer who has asthma will understand immediately the devastating effects of this allergic reaction. That’s why equine vets in the US are now referring to equine respiratory disease as ‘Equine Asthma’. Anyone who has found it hard to struggle out of bed with a bad cold can also imagine how inflammation of the airways feels for their horses.

On the much more serious long-term front, any human occupation that involves exposure to large amounts of breathable, airborne particles in confined spaces causes high rates of devastating and often fatal respiratory diseases, including the human form of COPD.  (So, does the inhalation of cigarette smoke or vehicle exhaust particles.)

In the UK alone, countless thousands of miners have died of ‘black lung’ from inhaling coal dust over the years.

Over 4,000 people die every year from respiratory diseases contracted over years of working in the construction industry, inhaling asbestos particles, silica dust, and even wood dust. Unless they have asthma, affected workers show no symptoms of respiratory disease for many years, and when they do, the disease is usually incurable.

What we need to know

  • There is an exact parallel between equine and human respiratory disease.
  • The causes and effects of human respiratory disease are similar to the causes and effects of equine respiratory disease.
  • The measures we need to take to prevent or combat respiratory disease are exactly the same for humans and horses.

What we need to do

Airborne, breathable dust and spores in the confines of a stable are recognised as the biggest cause of equine respiratory disease…

In other words, our 2018 survey confirms that too many owners are paying hefty vet’s bills and losing the use of their horses because their horses are suffering health problems that can be avoided or prevented by changing the conditions in which we keep them.

For our horses’ sake, we need to understand more about respiratory disease and its causes. We need to be more aware of the damage that dust and spores in the stable are doing. And we need to change the way we keep our horses to safeguard them from this threat.