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ARDS makes it difficult to breathe and prevents oxygenated blood from entering the body’s organs. The inability to breathe correctly can be very stressful and frightening to your horse. Coughing, wheezing, and a rapid heartbeat will all contribute to the anxiety your horse is experiencing. Additionally, without oxygenated blood, his internal organs will not work properly.
If your horse is having symptoms of respiratory distress syndrome, he should be seen by a veterinarian. Acute respiratory distress syndrome can be life threatening if not treated.
Acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS) is a condition that causes pulmonary edema (inflammation of the horse’s lungs). The inflammation inhibits oxygen from entering the lungs and the bloodstream.
Symptoms may include:
Acute respiratory distress syndrome is usually caused by an underlying disease or injury such as:
The veterinarian will want to go over your horse’s medical history, including vaccination, dental and deworming records. Inform the veterinarian if you are aware of any recent injuries. He will then perform a physical exam that will include listening to the patient’s heart, lungs and stomach with a stethoscope. The veterinarian may take your horse’s temperature, blood pressure and pulse. Blood will be drawn from the side of the horse’s neck, in preparation for a complete blood count to determine if there is a bacterial infection.
The veterinarian may also want to run an arterial blood gas (ABG) test. This diagnostic blood test checks the levels of oxygen and carbon dioxide in the horse’s blood. The AGB test can help determine how well the patient’s lungs are working. The veterinarian may suggest sedating the horse before drawing his blood. Chest x-rays may be taken, they can help diagnose conditions such as pneumonia or injuries to the lungs.
Patients with acute respiratory distress syndrome may need hospitalization and are typically treated with intranasal oxygen supplementation. A catheter is inserted into the horse’s nostril to help administer oxygen to the patient. The patient may need a sedative before this procedure is done. The veterinarian may want to start an intravenous (IV) line on your horse to help keep him hydrated and in order to administer medications directly into the bloodstream. If there is a bacterial infection, your horse will be prescribed antibiotics. Anti-inflammatories, corticosteroids, and antimicrobials may also be prescribed. The sedation will also help your horse get needed rest.
Recovery from acute respiratory distress syndrome in horses has a guarded prognosis. It is important to follow the veterinarian’s treatment plan for your horse. Follow-up visits will be required to monitor the progress. The veterinarian will want to have bloodwork and x-rays retaken on the patient. Your horse should remain on stall rest for 4-6 weeks, though he may be walked on a lead a few times a day. Your horse should not be ridden until he fully recovers from acute respiratory distress syndrome.
Your horse should be up to date on his vaccinations; the veterinarian can help you determine what vaccinations are required. Foals, seniors, stressed, and malnourished horses may have weakened immune systems which make the horse more susceptible to illness. It is imperative that your horse is provided a balanced nutritious diet while recovering and thereafter. A horse also needs proper shelter, which protects him from cold weather, rain, and damp conditions. In extreme cold temperatures, heaters may need to be installed in the stalls. Horses should also be provided blankets. Preventative measures may prevent the recurrence of respiratory distress in your horse.
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