Q: What are heaves?

A: An equine respiratory allergy such as recurrent airway obstruction (RAO) commonly known as heaves, is a possibility during seasonal changes. Two of the major causes of heaves are:

  • Increased amounts of dust in the hay or bedding, which horses who are stabled tend to inhale. As a result, the horse may cough or wheeze.
  • Increased pollens in the paddocks and fields.

Of these two, the most common cause in South Africa is the dust on the hay and bedding in stables. Ways to help reduce this problem would be to wet the hay in the stable (and remove damp, uneaten hay to avoid it going mouldy), and reduce the horse’s time in the stable. Horses who suffer severely from heaves are best kept in live-out paddocks to have access to fresh air and less dust. You can also reduce the amount of bedding you use by putting rubber mats into your stables. Your vet can advise on whether or not medical management is necessary.