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What Causes Coughing Jags

What Causes Coughing Jags

If you're a horse owner, you may have noticed your equine friend coughing occasionally. While it's a normal response to clear the airway of any irritants, frequent coughing could be a sign of an underlying health issue. Let's delve deeper into the causes of coughing in horses and how to prevent it.

The Respiratory System of Horses

Before we discuss the causes of coughing, let's take a quick refresher on the equine respiratory system. Horses are obligate nasal breathers, meaning they can only breathe through their nostrils. The nasal passages filter and humidify the air as it enters the nostrils and flows into the nasal cavity. The air then passes through the pharynx, larynx, trachea, and bronchi before reaching the lungs.

The lungs are made up of a network of bronchioles and alveoli, which are tiny air sacs responsible for gas exchange. Oxygen from inhaled air diffuses into the bloodstream, while carbon dioxide produced as a byproduct from metabolism is exhaled out of the body. Any inflammation or obstruction along this respiratory pathway can lead to coughing as the body's defense mechanism to clear the airway.

Causes of Coughing in Horses

Now that we know how vital the respiratory system is for horses, let's look at some common causes of coughing:


Horse with allergies

Just like humans, horses can develop allergies to certain substances such as pollen, dust, and mold. The allergens trigger an immune response in the horse's body, resulting in inflammation and irritation of the airway. This can cause coughing, wheezing, and difficulty breathing.

Infectious Diseases

Horse with infectious disease

A variety of infectious diseases such as equine influenza, equine herpesvirus, and strangles can cause respiratory symptoms in horses. These diseases spread easily in environments where horses are housed closely together, such as barns or stables.

Environmental Factors

Exposure to high levels of dust, ammonia, and other pollutants in the air can also lead to respiratory issues in horses. Poor ventilation, overcrowding, and other management factors can contribute to the development of respiratory problems.

Exercise-Induced Pulmonary Hemorrhage (EIPH)

EIPH is a condition characterized by bleeding in the lungs of horses during or shortly after exercise. It's common in racehorses and other high-performance equine athletes. Horses with EIPH may have a persistent cough, exercise intolerance, and difficulty breathing during exercise.

Laryngeal Hemiplegia

Laryngeal hemiplegia, also known as "roaring," is a condition in horses that affects the nerves controlling the muscles of the larynx. The affected horse may make a roaring or whistling sound while breathing, and in some cases, have difficulty breathing altogether.

Preventing Coughing in Horses

Prevention is key when it comes to coughing in horses. Here are some steps horse owners can take to minimize the risk of respiratory issues:


Maintaining a clean environment for your horse is crucial for preventing coughing. Keep the stall, barn, and surrounding area free of dust and other irritants. Use shavings or other low-dust bedding material and keep the area well-ventilated.


Regular vaccinations can protect horses from infectious diseases such as equine influenza and equine herpesvirus. Talk to your veterinarian about a vaccination schedule to keep your horse healthy.

Proper Exercise

Horses need regular exercise to maintain good respiratory health, but it's essential to ensure they don't overexert themselves. Avoid working horses too hard and provide plenty of rest and recovery time.

Feed and Water Quality

Make sure your horse's feed and water are of good quality. Moldy hay, contaminated water, and dusty feed can all contribute to respiratory problems.


Coughing in horses can be caused by a variety of factors, ranging from allergies to infectious diseases. Prevention is key, and horse owners can take steps to minimize the risk of respiratory issues. Maintaining a clean environment, providing regular vaccinations, and proper exercise and diet are essential for keeping horses healthy. If your horse has a persistent cough, consult with your veterinarian to help determine the underlying cause.