Respiratory health in the equine athlete is a hot topic in the industry, but it’s also a commonly misunderstood topic. Treatments have been developed throughout the years to benefit, heal and maintain an equine athlete’s respiratory health. Now, alternative therapies to do the same are growing in popularity and practice.
It can be argued respiratory health is the single most important quality in a barrel horse. When respiratory health is compromised, both the performance level and overall health of the horse is compromised. “Nebulizing these horses that have inflammatory airway issues helps loosen up all the mucus and build up in the lungs that causes obstruction of the bronchial or the very microscopic airways that get plugged,” said Marty Tanner, DVM, of Tanner Equine Sports Medicine and Rehabilitation.
“Nebulization helps unplug those airways, and when you unplug them you open up more of the lung that’s available to the horse so they get more oxygen profusion and you can see the cascade effect it has. They bleed less, they take less medication to perform and they stay healthier overall.” Horses suffer from any number of respiratory invaders like dust, allergies and disease. No matter what types of respiratory issues your horse is having, experts agree understanding how nebulization works, how it affects your individual horse and the respiratory health of your horse are all key in diagnosing and treating your horse’s health correctly. When researching nebulization, there are four key factors to remember:
- Nebulization directly inputs product into the horse’s respiratory system.
- Particle size determines how much is nebulized into the system.
- Only safe, veterinarian-approved products and medications should be nebulized.
- Consultation with your veterinarian is recommended.
1. Nebulizer Basics. There are several equine nebulizing systems on the market, and each has its own list of advantages and unique aspects. At the basis of each product is the same key concept in the function of nebulization. In simple terms, nebulization is when tiny particles of aerosolized medication or silver in the form of mist is distributed into the nebulizer to be inhaled by the horse. A nebulizer consists of a mask, co2 port to release carbon dioxide, a medicine or product cup and a means of generating the mist inhaled by the horse. Since the product is directly inhaled into the respiratory system, it’s important to be diligent about the types of products administered, as it’s paramount to your horse’s safety.
2. Particle Size. The particle size of the product will determine the amount distributed and the effectiveness of that product. The larger the particles, the less likely the entire particle will reach the desired location in the lungs. “The smaller the particle size, the better it will nebulize into the system,” Equi-Resp founder Tonda Collins said, adding that studies have been done to determine the particle sizes administered by the different-sized medicine cups of Equi-Resp, ranging from one to four microns depending on what you’re nebulizing.
3. Safe Products. Most commonly used with nebulization is a form of silver. Silver is an all-natural, antimicrobial, antibacterial, antifungal product used in both humans and animals because of its healing properties and lack of build up in the system, unlike many medications. Certain medications can be nebulized either with silver or alone in the nebulizer, but across the board experts agree to only use when veterinarian approved.
4. Veterinarian Consultation. Consulting your vet to determine the health of your horse’s respiratory tract and the correct usage and additives is recommended by all experts.
Nebulization is proven to help reduce or eliminate the need for Lasix to treat issues like EIPH or bleeding, Equine Multinodular Pulmonary Fibrosis (EMPF), COPD, allergies, pneumonia, mucus build-up, respiratory inflammation and much more. One of the major benefits of nebulization is that under the guidance of a veterinarian, it is an easily used product that can be administered on the road, at home and even on the day of competition.
Tanner believes in the benefits of nebulization, however he prefers to start with a simple approach of using only saline to begin treatment.
“I have my clients use nebulizers on horses that have lower airway or obstructive airway disease or bleeders,” Tanner said. “I have clients keep [nebulizers] with them to treat the lungs. There are a lot of different products people put in there, a sundry of things, and I like to keep treatments simple. I use saline.” Tanner will nebulize with other products, but only in the instance that it is necessary for the treatment of the horse. He says another benefit of nebulization is you can directly treat the affected area rather than treating the entire body unnecessarily.
“I keep a lot of products out of there, because when you’re nebulizing you’re putting it in the blood stream essentially, so I’m very particular about what I do,” Tanner said. “Sometimes we’ll need products in the lung, like with some of the chronic inflammatory airway situations that are responsive to steroids. You don’t want to give the horse steroids systemically and have the side effects that can bring along, but you can put smaller amounts in a nebulizer and actually put it directly into the tissue where you need the effect and save the rest of the body. You certainly expose the body to a lower dose when you treat those issues that way, and I think that’s beneficial as well.”
The quick and easy use of a nebulizer is also a benefit. Becky Canaday of Silver Horse Care recommends 15 minutes daily for the usage of Silver Horse Care’s colloidal silver. “You can nebulize more frequently, but you definitely do not need to nebulize any longer,” Canaday said. “I like to nebulize when I’m tacking up. It takes about 15 minutes to tack up. Brush your horse, put your saddle and boots on while you’re nebulizing your horse and then you’re ready to go down the road.
Silver is widely accepted in the use of nebulization. In fact, the benefits of silver are even incorporated into human medical practices for everything from common colds to severe burns. There are two common types of silver associated with nebulization—chelated and colloidal. Chelated refers to the silver ions chemically bonded to nonmetallic ions, and therefore can be dispersed in solution and carried into the body. Colloidal silver refers to finely divided particles of silver suspended or floating in solution that is charged electromagnetically.
There is debate within the industry as to which is best suited to nebulization, which is why consulting your veterinarian is recommended before determining which will be most effective for your horse and if the silver product has been produced safely and correctly. However, silver in general is proven beneficial and has no residual build up in the lung or blood stream. It’s a nonallergenic natural substance. “Silver is a natural antimicrobial, antibacterial, antiviral and antifungal,” Collins said. “Nothing and no one is allergic to it, and it doesn’t build up in your system. Silver is a remarkable product.
Putting it to Practice
Veterinarian consultation is important in both diagnosing your horse’s respiratory health correctly and in knowing the proper amount of time, medications, and if silver or other additives will help treat your horse safely.
On average, experts recommend using the nebulizer for short periods of time. Each horse and respiratory issue is different and might require more or less time. Treatment time is affected by the type of product you use in the nebulizer as well as the amount of product needed.
“You can actually inflame a lung if you do it too often, so you could create some of the situations you’re trying to treat with over-treatment or treating a horse that doesn’t need to be treated,” Tanner said.
To avoid over-treatment, Canaday suggests consulting your veterinarian before use and developing a plan for nebulization. “I always recommend that if people feel like they have something going on with their horse, they really need to go to a vet they trust and a vet that can do a full exam on the respiratory system,” Canaday said. Collins says having a vet exam with scopes and bronchoalveolar lavage will help determine the proper procedures for your individual horse. “[People sometimes] don’t understand the importance of scopes and finding out what the true issue is that’s going on with their horse,” Collins said.
Tanner agrees the use of scopes and bronchoalveolar lavage are the most important procedures you can implement to help assess you horse’s respiratory health. Then you can evaluate how to treat the issue, either with nebulization using saline, silver or medications if necessary.
Our experts advise not taking matters into your own hands by adding medications or solutions to the nebulizer without consulting a veterinarian first.
“As a veterinarian, sometimes we’ll get clients who come in with a cookbook of things they’re putting in the nebulizer, and yet they are there with a respiratory problem,” Tanner said. “One thing I know people don’t do enough is a procedure called a BAL—bronchoalveolar lavage—where we’re passing a catheter into the lung, putting some saline into the lung and drawing it back out and sending it to the lab. It tells us based on the cell types in the lung what’s going on and what the lung needs so you don’t end up putting in products you don’t need. You’re putting in what you need. You need to start out with that to have an idea of what you need to add to the nebulizer.”
Tanner says there’s no question if used correctly, nebulization is proven to improve a horse’s respiratory health. “When needed, it’s a good procedure and it’s simple, easy to do and there’s a good learning curve. You can teach a client to nebulize a horse in five minutes, and they’re not going to hurt them,” Tanner said. “I’ve seen horses’ ability to compete go up, because they’re breathing better and more efficiently so their performance level goes up. The amount of bleeding they experience would go down, and I think that’s a win-win situation.”
This article was originally published in the August 2018 issue of Barrel Horse News.
Meet the Experts
Marty Tanner, DVM 2016 Zoetis Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association Veterinarian of the Year Marty Tanner, DVM, has been a longstanding veterinarian in the barrel racing industry with more than 30 years experience in equine medicine. For the past 10 years, Tanner has traveled to the National Finals Rodeo to serve his Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association and Women’s Professional Rodeo Association clients. Tanner serves the elite equine athlete at Tanner Equine Sports Medicine and Rehabilitation in Millsap, Texas.
Tonda Collins is a lifelong horseman and barrel racer, as well as the founder of Equi-Resp. She’s dedicated her life to research and development of the Equi-Resp and bettering horse health through respiratory quality.
Becky Canaday, founder of Silver Horse Care products, is a barrel racer and advocate for horse health. After experiencing respiratory problems with her AQHA world champion horse, she decided to develop a nebulizer for her needs.