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Managing Ashtma Disease in Horses

20 June 2016
Australian Veterinary Association

AUSTRALIA - Inflammatory airway disease (IAD), also known as equine asthma, is a common problem in Australian horses.

It can affect the performance of horses participating across a range of activities, including racing, eventing, show jumping and dressage. And yet, despite advances in science, there’s still so much we don’t know about IAD.

Murdoch University veterinarian, Dr Cristy Secombe, is speaking at the Equine Veterinarians Australia Bain Fallon conference in Melbourne, 17-21 July. She considers that further research about this respiratory disease is necessary if we are going to be able to effectively tackle the problem of IAD in horses in this country.

“IAD is commonly diagnosed in Australia and most scientists agree that there are a number of things that contribute to the development of IAD in athletic horses including dust, allergens, infectious agents and a horse’s genetic susceptibility.

“The likelihood that a horse will develop the disease will depend on what level of exposure to causative agents they are able to tolerate and this varies from horse to horse,” Dr Secombe said.

The diagnosis of IAD can be challenging as the only clinical sign may be an intermittent cough or poor performance with minimal respiratory signs. Currently, our main method of diagnosis involves looking at the types of inflammatory cells present in the respiratory tract and the amount of mucus produced.

The treatment of IAD is centred on environmental management, which is focused on reducing exposure to dust and allergens and anti-inflammatory therapy, usually in the form of corticosteroids.

“We definitely have ways to diagnose and treat IAD at present but the fact is that we honestly don’t know whether there could be more effective options. Worldwide the research focus is moving towards looking at IAD in different equine populations, further investigating the role of infectious agents and developing a deeper understanding of genetic influences and the immune response’s role in this disease.

“This research is critical to improving the way we diagnose, treat and even prevent IAD in the future in horses in Australia. How can we make a definitive diagnosis of IAD and are there more sophisticated ways to control the immune system to manage IAD? These are the sort of questions that more research will hopefully provide answers to,” she said.

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