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Avril Lees our practice manager of 30 years is retiring from the practice in April. We would like to take this opportunity to say thank you for all the hard work and effort Avril has put in to making the practice what it is today. She well be immensely missed by staff and clients alike and we wish her all the luck for her future endeavours.
The next evening talk is booked for March 13th at 7pm at Pebmarsh village hall. The subjects are ‘What’s new in Equine Gastric Ulcer Syndrome – latest thinking and lessons from eight years of gastroscopy at Catley’ by our own vet Craig Rutland followed by ‘Approach to Investigation of Poor Performance’ with guest speaker Fran James, surgeon and sports medicine specialist from Newmarket Equine Hospital. Sponsored by Roben Equine – manufacturers of Gastroraft and Muscle and Performance. To book your seat please call the clinic on 01787 269006 or message our FB page.
This month’s article is on Recurrent Airway Obstruction (previously known as COPD, Heaves) written by our veterinary surgeon Karen Church.
RAO is a naturally occurring respiratory disease characterised by periods of reversible airway obstruction caused by inflammation and thickening of the airways, excess mucus production and bronchospasm (reflex smooth muscle contraction closing down airways). It is thought than an adverse immune response (hypersensitivity reaction), in response to organic dusts and moulds is the cause. Stable dust contains more than 50 species of moulds, large numbers of forage mites and other inorganic toxins.
It is seen in horses which are stabled and fed hay, but there is also a very similar condition occurring in horses out at pasture, which is termed Summer Pasture Associated Obstructive Disease. RAO occurs in middle age and older horses, and it is thought that up to 12% of mature horses are affected to some degree.
Clinical signs are varied, ranging from poor performance, chronic low grade cough (that winter stable cough we are all familiar with), nasal discharge, noise coming from the upper respiratory tract, through to laboured breathing which is characterised by nostril flare, increased respiratory rate and effort, ultimately leading to a heave line.
Horses can be diagnosed on clinical signs and history, but endoscoping and taking samples from the lungs is the gold standard for diagnosis. This also helps identify the small number of cases with secondary bacterial infections which may require antibiotics.
The key to effective treatment is removal of the cause i.e. eliminating the source of moulds/dust from the horse’s environment. Horses should be stabled as little as possible, but if stabled should be bedded on dustfree bedding (paper, pellets, dust free shavings) Any other stables sharing the same airspace should be bedded down in a similar manner. No hay or straw should be stored in that airspace. Mucking out/ bedding down should not be undertaken whilst the horse is nearby.
Similarly forage needs to be addressed, as dry hay is also a big source of dust. Soaking (for one to two hours), and feeding the hay wet, or steaming using a proprietary steamer, are both acceptable, and it is imperative that any hay fed in the field is treated similarly. Round bale hay is particularly allergenic.
If medical treatment is required, we use corticosteroids to reduce inflammation in the airways, and bronchodilators which relax the muscular spasm in the airways. The latter brings about symptomatic relief only, so is not ideal used on its own in the long term. These drugs are often administered in feed or by injection, but with the more chronic cases, where long term medical treatment is required, they can be given in an inhaled form, either through an inhaler or a nebuliser, the latter of the two being more effective in horses.
Once diagnosed, a horse remains susceptible to recurrences of the disease, therefore ongoing environmental management is imperative and unfortunately many horses may require repeated medical treatment during risk periods.
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