What is Epiglottic Entrapment?
When this condition occurs in your horse, the aryepiglottic folds become abnormal and are positioned above the dorsal epiglottis surface and covers the epiglottis. When your horse breathes, the air turbulence which gets trapped results in abnormal breathing sounds. This condition makes it hard for your horse to breathe, and can make your horse reluctant to exercise. Left unchecked, it can cause ulceration and infection.
Epiglottic entrapment can cause loud respiratory sounds and can make your horse intolerant to exercise because the increased activity causes breathing difficulties.
Symptoms of Epiglottic Entrapment in Horses
- Your horse’s running performance may be affected
- Reluctance to exercise
- Nasal discharge
- Head shaking
- Epiglottic Entrapment - Where the tissue encloses the epiglottic and makes breathing labored
- Epiglottic Retroversion - Also affects your horse’s respiratory system; the epiglottis retreats into the rima glottidis opening making breathing difficult
- Subepiglottic Cysts – Are less common causes of respiratory tract noise and also result in your horse having an intolerance to exercise
- Subepiglottic Granulomas - Due to chronic infection
- Dorsal Epiglottic Abscess - This is quite rare
Causes of Epiglottic Entrapment in Horses
- Abnormal shape and growth of the aryepiglottic fold
- As breathing occurs the fold obstructs epiglottis and the airway
- A condition from birth – the cause is unknown
- A laryngeal disorder
Diagnosis of Epiglottic Entrapment in Horses
Observation is the way this condition is usually discovered, with your horse’s breathing sounding noisy and sometimes gurgling. Often the condition is first noticed when you start to exercising your horse, especially when you take him for a long ride and he may even resist or resent being exercised. It is best to contact a veterinarian as soon as you discover this is happening, because if left untreated, the condition can become chronic, with the tissue thickening and becoming ulcerated. He may examine the inside of the throat using an endoscope to check the air passage. Your veterinarian can usually do this while your horse is resting, but in some cases your horse may need a treadmill endoscopy to determine the cause of the problem. Only by viewing the inside workings of the throat can the veterinarian determine what the cause of your horse’s distress is.
Treatment of Epiglottic Entrapment in Horses
The epiglottis sits in front of the larynx and its purpose is to flip up like a lid and seal the airway as your horse swallows food. The tissue underneath the epiglottis causes a problem when it slips up and over the epiglottis. Not only does it reduce the effectiveness of the breathing, but it causes the sounds you hear when your horse breathes. This condition can be surgically corrected for your horse, with the most common method being the slicing of the tissue with a laser or a sharp hook which frees up the air passage.
While this sounds dramatic, done correctly by an experienced veterinary surgeon, it can alleviate the breathing problem immediately. Surgical methods to free the epiglottis ensure the that the respiration of your horse is easier and enable him to exercise without the choking symptoms. Surgical cutting of the tissue that covers the epiglottis is an effective solution. Your veterinarian will prescribe an anti-inflammatory throat wash, as well as systemic anti-inflammatory medication and antibiotics.
Recovery of Epiglottic Entrapment in Horses
Treatment for this condition is straightforward and effective. Your horse can return to full health within 3-6 weeks after the treatment. You may need to continue the medication and your veterinarian will advise about further care. You may need a follow-up visit from them to ensure the surgery is healing and no infection has set in. As with any surgery, you need to allow your horse time to rest and relax. It is important to allow full healing before exercising. Once your horse has been assessed and declared fit and ready, slowly introduce exercise back into your horse’s routine. If your horse had become reluctant, they may be a bit hesitant but once they have discovered that they can gallop without distress, they will enjoy getting back into shape. Most horses return to full functioning after this rest and recovery period.