Stephanie Davis, DVM

Stephanie Davis, DVM

Why Does My Horse Cough?

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This is a simple question with a complex answer. First, you have to remember that a healthy horse rarely coughs. So if you notice a consistent cough, there is reason for concern. The most likely causes of a cough in an adult horse are viral respiratory tract infection, pharyngitis, an allergic respiratory disease (RAO or SPAOPD), pneumonia, IAD, and EIPH. With the threat of all of these illnesses, you should always consult your veterinarian if your horse develops a cough. It’s also beneficial to record when your horse coughs (e.g., during exercise, after feeding, etc…), as this can help direct the proper diagnosis.

If your horse coughs, but does not have a fever or nasal discharge, and the cough persists no matter what the level of exertion, you may be dealing with some level of an allergic respiratory disease, brought on by chronic exposure to allergens, most likely dust and/or mold spores. Unfortunately, just by the nature of how we stable horses, their exposure to dust and mold spores is inevitable. Reducing this exposure is essential for alleviating allergy symptoms.

The mainstay treatment for horses with RAO, SPAOPD, and IAD has always been to control the horse’s environment. This can be done by providing adequate turnout if the horse cannot continually be at pasture, using a low-dust bedding for the stall, and maintaining proper ventilation when the horse is stabled.

— Stephanie Davis, DVM


RAO – Recurrent Airway Obstruction
SPAOPD – Summer Pasture Associated Obstructive Pulmonary Disease
EIPH – Exercise Induced Pulmonary Hemorrhage
IAD – Inflammatory Airway Disease



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