What is Pleuropneumonia?
Horses that are confined to a shipping trailer for long periods of time are more prone to developing this condition. When your horse travels long distances, be sure to make frequent stops so your horse can walk around, eat and drink. This allows the lungs to fully expand and keep them from developing any form of pneumonia.
Pleuropneumonia, also known as shipping fever, is an infection within the lungs and the pleural cavity. Generally, pleuropneumonia will develop as a secondary infection when bacterial pneumonia has already developed. It is uncommon for a horse to develop pleuropneumonia without an underlying cause.
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Symptoms of Pleuropneumonia in Horses
After your horse has taken a long trip, be sure to monitor your horse closely for any of these symptoms. Horses that have been under general anesthesia or have been involved in strenuous exercise are also more likely to develop pleuropneumonia. Call your veterinarian immediately for an assessment.
- Lack of appetite
- Shortened strides or stilted gait
- Shallow breathing
- Unwilling to move
- Anxious facial expression
- Foul smelling nasal discharge
- Foul smelling breath
Causes of Pleuropneumonia in Horses
There are several causes of pleuropneumonia in horses. The most common cause is from long distance transport. When your horse is confined to a travel trailer, they are unable to fully expand their lungs. This can cause the lungs to begin to fill with fluid; this is when pneumonia begins to set in. The pleural cavity begins to fill with fluid as well and that is when pleuropneumonia begins.
Other causes of pleuropneumonia include viral respiratory infections, strenuous exercise and going under general anesthesia. These can limit the lung function or expansion allowing a secondary bacterial infection to set in.
The majority of horses diagnosed with pleuropneumonia are under five years of age and are in excellent physical condition, most are athletic horses. These horses are used to high levels of activity that helps keep the lungs expanded and clear of fluid build up.
Diagnosis of Pleuropneumonia in Horses
In many cases, your veterinarian will be able to diagnose pleuropneumonia based on the symptoms that have presented. Be sure to tell your veterinarian if your horse has recently traveled a long distance, has had an infection, or has been under anesthetic recently.
Your veterinarian will first conduct a thorough physical examination of your horse to determine that there are no other physical ailments that are contributing to the symptoms. Samples of any nasal discharge may be collected for testing.
A thoracic ultrasound will show any fluid build up within the pleural cavity. Thoracic radiographs are used to locate any lesions within the lungs and pleural cavity.
Blood work, urinalysis and a biopsy of the fluid within the pleural cavity will help determine if there are any bacteria present and if so, which bacteria. A biopsy of the tissues within the cavity may also be done to determine the extent of the infection.
Treatment of Pleuropneumonia in Horses
After the diagnosis of pleuropneumonia has been determined, your veterinarian will set an aggressive treatment plan for your horse. Be sure to follow all instructions as directed to ensure that your horse has the best chance to recover from pleuropneumonia. Should you have any questions or concerns during treatments, you need to consult your veterinarian.
Pleural lavage may be needed to flush the infected fluid from the pleural cavity. This will be done by inserting a chest drain and injecting a sterile solution into the drain to flush the bacteria from the cavity.
Anti-inflammatory medications may be given to reduce any swelling within the chest to help your horse breathe better. Strong, broad spectrum antibiotics will also be prescribed to kill off the bacteria within the body. Your horse will probably need to be on antibiotics for several weeks to ensure that the infection is completely cleared.
Hospitalization may be necessary if your horse is extremely ill from the infection. IV fluids may be necessary as well as other supportive care measures and constant medical attention until your horse gains enough strength to maintain proper hydration and nutritional support without medical intervention.
Recovery of Pleuropneumonia in Horses
Depending on the severity of the pleuropneumonia, your horse’s prognosis will be guarded until your veterinarian sees how well your horse is responding to treatments. All medications should be given as directed to ensure the best results. If pleuropneumonia is left untreated, it will be fatal to your horse as the fluid builds within the lungs and pleural cavity.
Pleuropneumonia can be prevented. When your horse is taken on long trips, allow plenty of time for your horse to be unloaded and walked around throughout the journey. Keep the trailer clean of all feces and urine and give fresh water and food at each stop.