heaves in horses

How to help the horse with heaves!


  • Recurrent Airway Obstruction (RAO) is known as heaves in horses. It’s similar to asthma in humans. In a nutshell, heaves make it hard for your horse to breathe. It’s a chronic disease, which often worsens over time. Early intervention is key!


A horse with heaves will have an allergic reaction in the lungs

  • When allergens (dust, pollen, ammonia, stray and hay dust, mold spores, etc) are inhaled, the allergic reaction is triggered.


  • The lungs react by swelling and secreting mucus.


  • This makes pockets of trapped air that are hard to exhale.


  • Heaves can create thickened airways over time, which also can increase the chance of infections as the airways can’t clear viruses and bacteria as well.


up close of horse nostrils

Pay attention to your horse’s respiratory system, there’s a lot his nose and breathing can tell you.


A horse with heaves will often:


  • Cough, especially during exercise and when dust is prevalent. A cough with fever is more indicative of an infection, and I know everyone takes TPR often!
  • Have difficulty exercising
  • Be a “hard keeper”
  • Have increased abdominal efforts in an attempt to breathe


Your horse’s daily management can help.


  • Reduce or eliminate hay from his diet. Hay is a huge source of dust, you may need to switch from soaked hay it to pelleted hay or chopped forage in advanced cases. As always, work with your Veterinarian.
  • Location, location, location! If your horse must live in a stall, can he have the end stall or the spot with an extra window? This is usually the best-ventilated stall in the barn.
steamed hay in a round hay gain
Steamed hay. It smells great, and works wonders for the horse with respiratory ailments.
  • Use low dust bedding. Straw may not be the best bet, as mold spores are often present. A low dust wood pellet or shaving may be best.
  • Minimize dust in his area. Lots of cleaning when he’s not in his stall. This goes for cleaning his stall, too. Remove your horse when his stall, and his neighbor’s stalls, are being cleaned, when the barn aisle is being swept, and any other high dust times. This article has tips on managing dust.
  • Feed him higher. Install a chest-high feeder for his hay and grains so his nose is away from dusty bedding and/or ammonia smell. Speaking of ammonia – it’s a dangerous by-product of urine that is harmful to the lungs. Use zeolites under the bedding to remove ammonia.


sweet pdz zeolites being spread in a stall

Zeolites also help your horse’s stall stay dry.


go shopping button for horse products

If you want to easily shop for horse supplies, you can click these links. As an Amazon Associate, I earn from qualifying purchases, which are not a penny more for you. I couldn’t be more grateful for your support!


Sweet PDZ Horse Stall Refresher Powder, 40-Pounds

Sweet PDZ Horse Stall Refresher Granules

ADC Veterinary Thermometer, Dual Scale, Adtemp 422 – For easy temperature taking

3M Littmann Classic III Monitoring Stethoscope, Black Edition Chestpiece, Black Tube, 27 inch, 5803 – For finding heart rate and gut sounds