Heaves (RAO – recurrent airway obstruction) primarily affects horses 9 years and older. It is similar to asthma. The lower airway becomes inflamed causing the disease.
As the horse ages, heaves can worsen. Horses with heaves are more prone to upper respiratory illnesses, both viral and bacterial. A compromised immune system can also worsen respiratory problems in RAO horses.
Regular veterinary checkups are important to control RAO. Your vet may prescribe corticosteroids and bronchodilators to ease airway constriction. Steroids often have unwanted side effects and your vet may prefer to use inhalant medications to bring relief to your horse.
Keeping your RAO horse’s environment clean and dust and allergen free as possible can improve his/her condition a lot. Wetting down hay before each feeding keeps dust at a minimum.
Prognosis depends on the stage of RAO and how soon it is diagnosed and treated. Untreated, chronic heaves can lead to scarring in the lungs and limited response to treatment.
Managing your horse’s environment along with regular veterinary care gives your horse an excellent chance of leading a good quality life.