My Horse Coughs: Problems, Causes and Treatment

horse coughs

Cough in horses is a common problem that affects the respiratory system of horses. It can be caused by viruses, bacteria, allergens, or environmental irritants and can lead to serious complications if not treated promptly.

What is a Cough?

 A cough is an involuntary reflex that helps to clear the airways of irritants and mucus. Coughing can occur due to irritation in the throat or lungs. 

  • Aspiration pneumonia is a type of pneumonia caused by the aspiration of foreign material or bacteria into the lungs. It can be caused by regurgitation, inhaling food particles, or even drinking contaminated water.
  • Inflammatory Airway Disease (IAD) is an inflammatory condition of the airways that can result in coughing, wheezing, and difficulty breathing. It is commonly caused by allergens or irritants in the environment such as dust, pollen, or mold.
  • Influenza, or “flu,” is a highly contagious respiratory illness that can spread through coughing, sneezing, and contact with infected surfaces. It can cause fever, chills, headache, muscle pain, and severe fatigue.
  • Pleuropneumonia is a bacterial infection of the lung tissue and pleura or the lining around the lungs. It can cause coughing, difficulty breathing, fever, and reduced appetite in horses.
  • Pneumonia is a type of respiratory infection that can cause severe coughing in horses. It is important to recognize the symptoms and signs of pneumonia in order to identify it quickly for proper treatment. Clinical signs of pneumonia may include increased respiration rate, increased temperature (up to 103°F or more), mucoid discharge from the nostrils and/or a persistent cough. Diagnosis is typically done through physical examinations, blood tests, and imaging studies such as X-rays or ultrasounds. 
  • Recurrent airway obstruction (RAO) is a chronic inflammatory respiratory disease of horses, which is also known as equine asthma or “heaves.” It affects the bronchi and bronchioles, causing coughing and difficulty breathing. Symptoms can range from occasional mild coughing to severe labored breathing.
  • Rhinopneumonitis, commonly known as equine herpesvirus (EHV), is a highly contagious respiratory disease in horses that can be very serious and even fatal in severe cases. Although symptoms vary from horse to horse and depend on the strain of virus involved, common signs include coughing, nasal discharge, fever, decreased appetite, depression, and swelling of the lymph nodes.
  • Strangles, also known as contagious equine distemper or Streptococcus equi infection, is one of the most common diseases in horses. It is an infectious and highly contagious bacterial disease that affects the respiratory system of horses. Strangles can lead to severe straining, fever, nasal discharge and abscesses around the head, neck and throat.


The most common symptom of strangles is coughing. Horses may cough for several days and the cough can get worse as the disease progresses. Other symptoms include fever, nasal discharge, depression, decreased appetite and swollen lymph nodes. The swelling of the lymph nodes around the horse’s head and neck can lead to difficulty in swallowing and even difficulty breathing.

Diagnosing the Cause of the Cough

The accurate diagnosis of the cause of a cough in horses is essential for successful treatment. A thorough medical history, physical examination, and diagnostic tests are used to identify the underlying source of the cough.

Common diagnostic tests include:

  • Radiography or thoracic ultrasonography (U/S) to detect any underlying physical changes such as fluid or masses in the lungs
  • Blood tests to look for signs of infection or inflammation
  • Tracheal wash to identify any bacteria, viruses, parasites, or fungi present
  • Endoscopy to examine the upper airway and trachea for lesions, obstruction, or foreign bodies


Once the underlying cause of the cough is identified, treatment can begin. Treatment options for cough in horses vary and depend on the underlying cause but may include:

  • Antimicrobial therapy to treat any infections
  • Corticosteroids or other anti-inflammatory medications to reduce inflammation in the airway
  • Bronchodilators to reduce bronchoconstriction and improve airway patency
  • Fluid therapy to maintain hydration and electrolyte levels
  • Nutritional support to ensure the horse is getting the nutrients it needs for recovery

In cases where a foreign body or tumor is present, surgery may be required. In addition, supportive care such as a humidified environment and a quiet area to reduce stress or airway irritants can also help. It is important to speak with your veterinarian to discuss the best treatment option for your horse. With proper care, a cough in horses can be managed and the horse’s health can be restored.

The prognosis of a coughing horse depends on the underlying cause. If the cause is bacterial or viral, antibiotics or antivirals may help. Once a diagnosis has been made, treatments can be tailored to the individual horse’s needs and the prognosis can be improved. It is important for owners to work closely with their veterinarian to ensure the best outcome for their horses.


It is also important to take preventative measures to reduce the likelihood of cough in horses. Making sure your horse has access to clean water, good nutrition, and a safe environment are all key steps to maintaining their health and reducing any risks of developing a cough or other respiratory problems. Additionally, regularly vaccinating against common equine diseases can help reduce the chance of viral or bacterial infections. Taking these simple steps can keep your horse healthy, happy and free from coughing in the future.


When is a cough serious for a horse?

A cough is considered serious in horses when it persists beyond two weeks, is accompanied by a fever or other signs of distress, or if the horse is having difficulty breathing. If you suspect your horse has a serious cough, it’s important to contact your veterinarian right away for an evaluation and appropriate diagnostics and treatment.

What can you do for a horse with a cough?

If you think your horse may have a cough, it is important to consult with your veterinarian for an accurate diagnosis and treatment plan. Diagnosis usually involves listening to the horse’s lungs with a stethoscope and obtaining samples of any discharge from the airways. Treatment will depend on the underlying cause of coughing but generally includes rest and medications.
The horse should also be taken off of any feed that may be causing an allergic response and/or given a course of antibiotics if the cause is a bacterial infection. Chest physiotherapy or aerosol treatments can help to clear mucus from the airways and reduce coughing, while steroidal inhalers may be used to reduce inflammation in the airways. In cases of chronic coughing, it may also be necessary to surgically remove any growths or obstruction from the trachea or bronchi.

What happens when a horse coughs?

A horse’s coughing is a symptom of an underlying condition, such as dust or pollen allergies, respiratory infections, and other illnesses. When a horse coughs, it may discharge mucus or saliva from the nostrils and mouth. Coughing can also be accompanied by wheezing or gagging sounds. Depending on the cause of the cough, the horse may experience difficulty breathing or increased respiratory effort.

What’s the best thing to give a horse with a cough?

The best course of action for a horse with a cough is to consult your veterinarian. Your vet can perform a physical exam and determine if the coughing is due to an infection or other medical condition. Depending on the cause of the cough, treatment may include antibiotics, anti-inflammatory medications, and/or treatments for any underlying conditions.


My Horse Has a Cough. Now What?

Recurrent Airway Obstruction (RAO) in the Horse

Coughing, mucus accumulation, airway obstruction, and airway inflammation in control horses and horses affected with recurrent airway obstruction

What's your reaction?

In Love
Not Sure

You may also like

Leave a reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

More in:Health