COPD in Horses

COPD in horses (Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease – also known as RAO, Recurrent Airway Disorder and Heaves) as the name suggests is characterised by coughing and a general restriction of the airway caused by an allergy.

COPD in Horses - horse coughing


As with humans, the symptoms can have a range of severity and often occurs more in the winter months.

Typically, first observations will be lack of “fitness”, some coughing especially during exercise and sometimes a thin white discharge from the nose.

As the COPD progresses, the discharge can thicken up and turn yellow. Lumps of thick mucus are coughed up. There are also physiological signs as the horse struggles to breathe. Breathing can be faster or deeper than is usual.

Abdomen muscles become overdeveloped and the horses rear end moves in sympathy with breathing.

NAF Respirator is a very popular supplement for managing COPD in horses.


COPD in horses is caused by a dusty environment.

However, creating a low dust environment for horses is not always easy. Stables can be dirty, and hay can have a high dust content, depending upon how well it is produced.

If possible, inspect hay before you buy. If you do end up with a dusty batch of hay, soaking it can be an option. However, this does leech out some of the goodness in the hay. This can be fine when dealing with natives or lamanitics, but take care your horse is getting overall good nutrition.

If you are using shavings as bedding, it is worth experimenting with different brands. Whilst the majority are marketed as “dust extracted”, some brands are dustier than others. The thicker cut shavings tend to be less dusty, but are slightly less absorbent and are a bit more difficult to shovel. So, there is a balance to be struck between dust levels and convenience

Dust-free stable practices are essential as any dust or mould spores will make the condition worse.

We have also found that some horses just seem to be more susceptible than others. There seems to be no rationale regarding which breeds are more affected. Our hardy little Forester coughs as soon as he gets in a stable (and so mostly lives out), whereas we have previously owned thoroughbreds which have been unaffected.

Combined with pollen issues, this can have a significant impact on respiratory health.

Remedies for COPD in Horses

Start with essential good practice:

Proper stable management and husbandry are critical. Think about the overall environment for your horse. In scientific tests, Vandenput found that careful environmental control made a difference in just 6 weeks.

Things to consider:

  • Frequency and quality of mucking out
  • Dust extracted bedding
  • Hay quality. Hay can be soaked if dusty, but note that this can leach away some of the hays goodness (a technique sometimes used for lamanitics)
  • Alternatives such as Haylage
  • Increase turnout time
  • Treat the immediate problems.

A natural remedy which can act as both an expectorant as well as promoting clear airways and nasal passages can go a long way to resolving these issues for your horse. Also, it goes without saying that for any serious condition, veterinerary supervision is a must.

Look at ways to build up natural defences against respiratory sensitivity

Supplements can be used to promote clear airways, and there are myriad types available on the market demonstrating this is a very common condition.

Natural preventative treatments such as garlic work by building up levels of antioxidants

Supplements for Horses with COPD

COPD is a complaint where you want to do as much as you can to reduce symptoms quickly.

As well as managing exposure to dust and irritants, supplements can further support managing the condition. Supplements for horses with COPD need to provide:

  • Support to the respiratory system. Supplements rich in antioxidants, omega 3 and vitamin C provide this
  • Expectorant to help shift mucus, using herbs such as garlic
  • Soothing comonent such as licorice

NAFs Respirator mix contains the above and more. 

We’ve done some internet research and this mix gets very good reviews, helping not just with COPD but also with pollen allergies over the summer months.

Scroll to Top