How To Help a Horse in Respiratory Distress

Table of Contents

As a horse lover and hostler, your priority is ensuring your equine companion stays healthy. Respiratory distress in horses can be challenging to detect early on but causes extreme discomfort if not addressed quickly. 

However, you can help your horse recover from respiratory distress more easily with proper care and attention. In this blog post, we’ll explore the signs of respiratory distress in horses and how you can provide the necessary support for your beloved animal. 

Get ready for an informative journey that will equip you with all the know-how needed to help relieve a horse’s distressed state!

What causes respiratory distress in horses?

Respiratory distress in horses can have many causes, ranging from environmental irritants such as dust, moldy hay, and smoke to serious illnesses like pneumonia and heaves. 

Some horses can be allergic to inhaled particles such as dust mites or pollen, leading to inflammation of the airways that causes severe respiratory distress. Common respiratory illnesses include severe bronchitis or congestive heart failure, which can both cause difficulty breathing. 

Furthermore, weather or the lack of a windbreak during cold winter months can result in the lungs being too cold and constricting the airways, leading to respiratory distress. Properly equipping your horse with fitted hoods and blankets for protection is essential for avoiding these issues related to cold weather.

How do you treat respiratory distress in horses?

Respiratory distress in horses can be a life-threatening condition and treating it should be done as quickly as possible. In most cases, providing plenty of fresh air and monitoring the horse’s behavior, temperature, heart rate, and respiration rate can help restore normal breathing. 

Additionally, if the horse is sick with an infection such as Strangles or pneumonia, antibiotics will likely be needed to fight off the infection. If your horse is struggling to breathe due to dehydration from exercise or certain conditions such as heaves, administration of fluids under veterinary supervision may be necessary. 

In some instances, oxygen therapy may also be used to increase oxygen levels in the blood. Keeping your stables well-ventilated and using feed supplements to maintain a normal diet can help reduce the severity of respiratory distress in horses and also help prevent it in the first place.

How long does a respiratory infection last in horses?

A respiratory infection in horses can be a tricky thing to diagnose, as the symptoms vary and it’s often difficult to pinpoint its cause. What we do know is that these infections typically last anywhere from five days to four weeks, depending on the severity of the infection and whether or not the horse has access to proper care. 

It’s important not to underestimate these infections as they left untreated can progress into more serious health problems, including pneumonia and airway obstruction. Fortunately, there are some treatments available such as antibiotics that can help shorten the duration of an infection and reduce its severity. 

If you think your horse might have a respiratory infection you must contact your veterinarian immediately for diagnosis and treatment.

What do you give a horse with a respiratory infection?

It’s important to identify the cause of a respiratory infection in a horse before attempting any type of treatment. Many respiratory infections in horses can be treated with antibiotics, but it is best to seek veterinary guidance first. 

Depending on the underlying issue and severity, an appropriate diet with ample amounts of hay or other forage should be provided, which helps aid in the absorption of the medication. Sometimes supplemental oxygen or nebulization therapy might be beneficial for a horse that is struggling to breathe adequately. 

Additionally, something as simple as keeping the horse inside may help reduce physical strain when tackling common lower airway diseases. Taking all these precautions and more into consideration, you ultimately want to ensure that your horse recovers from its infection quickly and safely.


In conclusion, it’s essential to be knowledgeable about the signs of respiratory distress in horses and know how to provide proper care and treatment. If you suspect your horse is having difficulty breathing, try to remain calm and collected; don’t panic! 

Carefully assess the situation and take appropriate steps to help your horse. Follow instructions for administering medications if necessary, contact your veterinarian as soon as possible, and be sure that the horse is not exposed to anything that may further irritate their airways or increase nitrate or ammonia levels. 

If a horse is exhibiting signs of heavy breathing accompanied by other symptoms of respiratory distress such as labored breathing or coughing, take immediate action. By understanding common causes of respiratory distress in horses, being aware of sudden changes in behavior, and having a viable plan with an exit strategy if needed, you can help ensure the health and well-being of your horse.

Matthew Flor

Matthew Flor

Hi, y’all! My name is Matthew Flor, and I’m from Ocala, Florida.
I’m a horse enthusiast, and one of my favorite breeds is the Shire horse.
In this blog, I’ll be sharing information about these amazing animals – everything from their history to their unique characteristics.

About Me

Recent Posts

About the Shire | Horse Breeds