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20 February 2019   
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The Importance of Choosing Good Bedding for Horses

Coughs in horses are usually due to allergic reactions to stable dust, mites, mould and pollen. Horses with allergic coughs run out of breath, lose appetite and condition in the same way as a horse with a viral infection. It is often difficult to treat a long-term irritable cough; antibiotics have little effect because the viruses and micro-organisms causing the problem are not very sensitive to these drugs.

One of the best ways of tackling coughing horses is to assess stable management, not just the hay you are feeding which should be of good quality, but also the bedding. Sometimes it is not possible to allow the horse to live outside although this often helps to alleviate the symptoms. The allergic root cause needs to be overcome and a thorough examination of the horses surroundings addressed.

Choose dust and mould-free bedding with good depth for comfort and support. Bedding needs to be cleaned daily, should be absorbent and easy to dispose of. Though cost and availability may play a part, the serious health problems associated with poor bedding may prove to be even more expensive than paying for good quality bedding. Good stable ventilation and effective drainage are of equal importance as is choosing a good quality horse bedding. Your horse depends on his lungs and so do you; give yourselves the clean air you deserve.

Horses kept out at grass have a lower risk of respiratory problems than the stabled horse. Field fungi spores from crops grown in the open are normally large and do not usually affect the lower airways of the horse. The mould spores that are more dangerous are small and the highest exposure to them is in the stable. The high moisture from the horses excrement reacts with fungi in the bedding and causes heat. These moulds thrive and multiply in the high moisture combined with the warmth. Because the spores from the moulds are very small they are easily inhaled into the lungs causing respiratory problems such as coughing, wheezing and long-term allergic reactions.

Dust may also be an irritant to the horse and cause respiratory problems and allergies; other sources of allergens include mould spores, pollen and mites. It is the smaller dust particles that are the most dangerous as they are easily inhaled into the respiratory tract and affect the lower airways.

Much advice is given on damping down bedding to stop dust and to the wetting or soaking of hay, but that in itself can cause mould problems. Wet hay left to putrefy can cause an even greater problem than feeding dry hay. Some horses need their hay wet as they cough as soon as the hay is fed dry. If the hay is to be soaked it is very important to let it drain off before importing it into the stable. It is also important to dispose of any leftover hay on a daily basis and remove any damp hay that has dropped into the bedding. I have witnessed stables with a distinctive musty smell around the hay net area and a confused owner wondering why the horse is coughing when the hay is so meticulously wet each day! The importance of providing good quality hay needs to be stressed. Inferior, dusty hay will have little or no nutritional value and if you cannot obtain good hay, substitute with a dust free alternative.

Cleaning your horses stable thoroughly, including removing all wet bedding and replacing with fresh bedding, should be done at least once a day. While you are cleaning out, it is much better to remove the horse from the stable so that it is not subjected to the activity where dust and spores become airborne.

Ammonia from the horses urine and faeces is released into the air by the action of bacteria degrading organic matter. It inhibits the ability of the defence mechanisms in the airways to remove particles from the lungs and increases the production of mucus. This is another good reason to skip out regularly and remove all wet areas daily. Good quality, absorbent bedding will help to eliminate the ammonia and will create less dust. If you need to damp the bedding, use only a quick fine spray.

Caring for your horse will enhance it's well-being, quality of life and performance. If a case of coughing persists in the horse seek veterinary advice.

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