Respiratory Evaluation for Horses in Arizona
When you hear your horse having breathing problems, it’s cause for concern. Not only do breathing problems create performance issues because your horse isn’t breathing properly, but your horse could have a respiratory infection that needs to be addressed.
Symptoms requiring a respiratory evaluation
- Abnormal lung sounds
- Intermittent or persistent coughing
- Noisy breathing when exercising
- Difficulty breathing
- Gurgling sound when working hard
- “Hitting the proverbial wall” during fast exercise
- Unusual nasal discharge
We do an extensive respiratory evaluation, first checking for any lower respiratory issues. We start with listening to the lungs, often using a rebreathing bag to encourage the horse to take deep breaths. We believe a comprehensive evaluation of the lower respiratory airways is very important as lower airway disease can also affect the nerves and therefore, the function of the of the upper airway which may result in further performance reduction.
We follow the external evaluation with an equine respiratory endoscopy. The endoscope has a small camera at the tip of the scope, which enables us to take images as we progress through the upper airway (nasal passages and nasopharynx) and through the larynx into the trachea.
The horse is mildly sedated so that we can assess the following areas for function, inflammation, injuries, mucus, tumors, and/or foreign bodies. We typically evaluate the following areas and their associated structures:
- Nasal passages
- Trachea and
- Possibly the esophagus
Once lung auscultation and the endoscopy are completed, we then determine if further exams are necessary to more closely evaluate the cause of lower respiratory problems. We perform the following exams and their associated culture & sensitivity panels as well as fluid evaluation:
- Tracheal wash
- Bronchoalveolar lavage
With a combination or sometimes all of these diagnostic tests, we are then able to diagnose the cause of the respiratory issue and recommend treatment.
Aside from respiratory infection and other medical problems, there are a number of common causes for breathing issues:
- “Dorsal Displacement of the Soft Palate (DDSP)” The soft palate slips above the epiglottis which restricts airflow
- Left laryngeal paralysis (“Lazy flapper”)
- Laryngeal inflammation due to infection or malformation
- Epiglottis entrapment or cysts
- Guttural pouch diseases
- Sinus problems
- Nasal and nasal pathway injuries
To remedy the soft palate issue, we perform a procedure called a tie-forward procedure. The purpose of a tie-forward is to advance the larynx forward so it sits over the soft palate, forcing the soft palate to stay in the correct position, and opening up the airway so the horse can breathe normally again.
A laryngeal inflammation or malformation reduces the airflow in the trachea and can cause issues with the horse not swallowing properly, allowing food and other foreign matter into the lungs. For these situations, we typically perform a tie-back procedure where we surgically pull back the cartilage so it is out of the path of airflow.
The prognosis, with rehabilitation, is very promising, with most horses returning to normal activity post-operation.