Struggling Lungs

Most of your horse’s body is heavily oriented to minimizing contact with the rest of the world but the lungs rely on it to function.  This makes their job of extracting oxygen and releasing carbon dioxide and other wastes very high risk.

From draft work to speed, and just staying alive, all cells depend on oxygen extracted by the lungs

For gas exchange to occur, the tissue must be very thin, only one cell thick. The challenges this fragile organ faces include infectious organisms, noxious gases, physically irritant particles and potential allergens. There are even immature forms of some parasites which travel through the lung.

The first line of defense is a mucus layer on all surfaces. This traps potential irritants and is a barrier to invaders. There is a rich antioxidant system to both combat incoming problems and protect the tissues from immune system responses. The local immune system is robust but may also be triggered to have strong reactions against irritants and potential allergens.

Even the weather can be a problem. Hot summer air that is heavy with humidity suspends and concentrates irritants. It also increases the work of breathing. Cold and dry winter air reduces exposure to environmental irritants but tends to dry out the mucus barrier and  causes bronchospasm in some individuals.

There are some key supplements you can use to support lung health and normal function. Spirulina is a fresh water, nontoxic, blue-green algae with some unique properties. In addition to excellent antioxidant capacity, Spirulina helps maintain balanced immune function and antibody production as well as stability of the mast  cells which store histamine.

Jiaogulan (Gynostemma pentaphyllum) is a Chinese vine with many health promoting properties. Of interest here is assistance in maintaining relaxed, open airways.

Vitamin C is a major antioxidant in the lung and known to be in high concentration in lung tissues and secretions. MSM and Grapeseed meal and extract are also potent antioxidants in the respiratory system, while citrus bioflavonoids both help bolster antioxidant defenses and contribute to the health of the fragile network of capillaries where gas exchange occurs.

Finally, there are important steps you can take to minimize exposure to irritants. Keep the horse outside as much as possible.  When stabled, maintain good airflow through the building. Use wood or paper bedding rather than straw. Remove urine soaked bedding frequently as bacteria will break it down to irritating ammonia. Wet down all hay and bucket meals before feeding.  Do not store hay or straw in the same building as the horse. If ground conditions in the arena or ring are dusty, hose it down before riding.

Supporting healthy lung function can be a challenge but a combination of appropriate supplementation and environmental management can go a long way toward achieving easy breathing.

Eleanor Kellon, VMD

About Dr. Kellon

Graduate of University of Pennsylvania Veterinary School. Owner of Equine Nutritional Solutions,, industry and private nutritional consultations, online nutritional courses. Staff Veterinary Expert at Uckele Health and Nutrition .
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