Just like in humans, coughing is a natural process in horses. It helps them to clear their airways, shift any mucus or debris from their throat and breathe more easily.

Many owners may think it’s OK to let the cough get better on its own but that would be a mistake.

So when should you start to worry? Perhaps the cough’s just started and you’re not sure of the cause? Perhaps your horse has had a cough long-term and is now reluctant to train? Or maybe your equine has never had an issue with coughing before but suddenly it’s experiencing an attack of breathlessness?

In this article, we’ll help you demystify coughing in horses, show you common types of cough to look out for and discuss possible treatments. We’ll also talk about asthma in horses and how to help an equine suffering from this condition.

If your horse does need treatment for a respiratory issue, you may have to get them to the vets as a matter of urgency.

That’s where horse trailer insurance comes in. With the right cover in place, accidents in your trailer will be one less thing to worry about. After all, looking after your equine friend should be your top priority.

Get a quick quote from Equesure today – the horse trailer insurance specialists – and get the cover that’s right for you.


What are the causes of coughs in horses?

As Equus magazine explains, there are many possible reasons that a horse can develop a cough aside from environmental factors. These can include things like:


Horse influenza

If your horse has a high fever and lack of appetite, it may be suffering from equine flu. This contagious, respiratory tract infection affects the pharynx, lungs and even sometimes heart muscle.

You should treat suspected equine flu as an emergency and call the vet straight away. Isolate the infected animal to stop the spread among the herd.


Aspiration pneumonia

Aspiration pneumonia is a lung infection that develops after a horse has inhaled a foreign object into its lungs. The object can block the horse's esophagus and cause what’s known as Choke.

If you spot saliva or food coming from the horse’s nose, they may be suffering from Choke, which could develop into aspiration pneumonia and you should contact the vet immediately.

Owners should be aware that aspiration pneumonia may also be triggered when the horse is given liquid medicine faster than it can swallow.

If you’re unsure about how to administer medicines properly to your horse, don’t take any chances. Call the vet.



Inflammation of the tissues in the lungs. This viral infection likes to attack horses whose defence mechanisms or immune systems are low, which could include equines who travel a lot or for long periods.



Like pneumonia above, but pleuropneumonia also attacks the pleural lining located between the horse’s lungs and chest wall.



Heaves or Recurrent Airway Obstruction is usually caused by dust in the horse’s environment. This condition may also be referred to as horse asthma by your vet, which we discuss more below.



Caused by the herpes virus, this infection is highly contagious. Your horse may present with a fever alongside the cough. This disease can make some mares abort so it’s essential that you get prompt veterinary advice.



Also known as Strangles, this horrible infection of the lymph nodes in the horse’s head produces large abscesses filled with pus which swell up and make the horse feel like it’s being strangled, hence the name.

If you see a thick, yellow pus coming from the nose, the abscess has likely burst. Distemper is also highly infectious, so keep any infected animals away from other horses.

A horse coughing whilst grazing grass

What are the most common symptoms to look out for?

Aside from the actual cough itself, your horse might also produce phlegm (if it’s a productive cough). Look for signs of phlegm inside the stable.

You might also see yellow or green nasal discharge and your horse might be generally unwell, ignoring their food or displaying a high temperature.

If you notice any of these signs in your equine it’s time to call the professionals. Horse trailer insurance will cover you if you need to transport your equine to the vet.


When might I hear my horse coughing?


Coughing in young horses

If your young horse (around two years old or younger) is coughing, this could be a sign of a serious infection. There are two things to be on the lookout for here when handling younger equines: equine roundworm and Rhodococcus equi pneumonia.

The first is caused by the horse ingesting roundworm eggs. The worms then develop in the stomach, are coughed up into the trachea and are then swallowed again into the gut.

The second is caused by the inhalation of dust particles containing the bacteria which lives in the earth. This causes a severe lung infection in foals.

They cough up and then swallow the mucus. The bacteria then gets transferred to the soil again through its manure and can affect all the horses that then graze on that land.

In both cases contact the vet as a matter of urgency as coughs in young horses should not be left too long.


Coughing when eating

If you notice that your horse is coughing at feeding time, it could be caused by Choke, as we described above. Coughing issues while eating could also be the result of:

  • dusty pellets
  • problems with your horse’s teeth
  • physical irregularities or abnormalities with the mouth or chewing action
  • infections or injuries to the mouth or throat


Coughing when exercising or riding

Does your horse clear its throat before a bout of hard work or exercise? This is completely normal. But if he keeps coughing during the ride, or while you’re exercising in the yard, there might be some environmental or physical issue causing the irritation. Again, contact the vet as soon as possible.


Coughs after being transported in a trailer

One of the best things about having a horse is taking it to shows and events all around the country. But all that transportation and mixing with other equines can sometimes lead to health problems.

If you’ve noticed your horse has started coughing after a recent trip, talk to the vet. They may have picked up a respiratory infection from another horse.

As Elite Equine UK also highlights, shipping fever – a form of bacterial pneumonia – can affect horses that have been travelling for long periods in a trailer that doesn’t allow them to drop their head and clear their airway properly.

If you are planning to take your horse on a long journey, read our top tips on how to prepare your horse and trailer for such an event.

Is your current horse trailer suitable for your needs? Perhaps you’ve just taken on another horse and need to upgrade to a larger model? If you’re thinking of changing your trailer soon, talk to the specialists at Equesure about horse trailer insurance, and find the cover that’s right for you and your equines.

A horse poking its head out of the back of a horse trailer

What if my horse coughs for no reason?

Most of the time, horses cough to clear their airway, which as we’ve heard is completely normal and exactly what we do as humans.

If you hear your horse coughing persistently, though, with no obvious cause, don’t delay. Get it checked by a vet as quickly as possible as there could be food or some other type of debris lodged in its throat, which could have fatal consequences if left too long.


Protecting the rest of the herd from coughs

If you have more than one horse and you suspect one of them is suffering from a cough, it’s essential that you separate that animal from the rest of the herd as soon as possible.

Just as in the human world, coughs can easily spread infection through the air, so other stablemates need to be protected. You should also take care to sanitise your hands before touching other members of the herd.

Equesure can offer discounts if you insure more than one horse. Ask our specialist team for more information when you ring to get a quote.


Does my horse have asthma?

You may have heard of some common horse respiratory diseases like Recurrent Airway Obstruction (RAO), Inflammatory Airway Disease (IAD) or Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease) COPD.

Nowadays, these may be collectively referred to as equine asthma. But how do you know if your horse is suffering with this worrying condition?

Just like in human asthma, an attack can be triggered by an allergic reaction to a particular substance that your horse has come into contact with. This could be anything from dust in its hay, to pollen during the spring and summer when you’re out for a hack, to mould spores in their stable or animal hair.

Again, the symptoms are similar to those you would expect to see in a human with asthma. You may notice your equine is struggling to breathe, wheezing or heaving (using lots of extra effort to take a breath).

You might also spot some discharge coming from their nose. Some horses can also show a lack of tolerance for exercise if they’re short of breath, as you can imagine, and you shouldn’t attempt to ride a horse if you suspect they have asthma.

Contact the vet if you have any concerns, especially if your horse has an acute attack and is really struggling to breathe.

A vet might diagnose equine asthma based on your horse’s history or what symptoms they’re displaying. They may even want to conduct an internal examination with an endoscope to check the horse’s airways and collect samples if possible.

Horse trailer insurance will keep you covered if you have to transport your equine for a check-up.

There are a number of possible treatments for equine asthma, starting with trying to identify the source of the allergy.

If it’s something obvious like dust from their hay, just turning them out more regularly or  improving ventilation in their stable might solve the problem.

If that doesn’t work, there are drugs available such as anti-inflammatories and Bronchodilators that help to open up the airway but these will only deal with the symptoms and not the underlying cause.

That’s why it’s important to check your horse’s living conditions so you can easily eliminate things that are causing an issue.

A lone horse looking head on with a group of horses behind

What preventative measures can you take?

No one wants to see their beloved equine struggling to breathe. That’s why it’s important to do what you can to minimise the risk of them developing a cough in the first place.

Make sure the stable is well ventilated. As Your Horse explains, if there are lots of spider webs in your horse’s stable, it could probably do with more air. Spiders like places with little ventilation.

They also suggest turning your horse out regularly, making sure the stable area is well swept and steaming – rather than soaking – hay to kill any dust spores that might aggravate your horse’s respiratory tract. 

Also consider using a low-dust bedding for your horse’s stable and trailer to minimise the chance of allergic reactions.


Do you need horse trailer insurance?

As we’ve learned, equine coughs and diseases can be spread while you’re transporting your horses around. But there are many other risks associated with moving horses, too, like accidents and injuries.

That’s why it’s wise to invest in specialist horse trailer insurance from Equesure to make sure you’re protected financially in case of an incident.

Horse trailer insurance through Equesure can cover all makes and models of trailer up to £10,000.

Accidental damage, fire and theft are covered as standard and home or stable start is also available to get you moving as quickly as possible.

We can offer protection for all top brands of horse trailer including:

  • Equi-Trek
  • Ifor Williams
  • Cheval Liberte
  • Wessex
  • Pegasus
  • Richardson
  • Rice and many more

Get a quick quote for horse trailer insurance from the specialists at Equesure today.

Policy benefits, features and discounts offered may very between insurance schemes or cover selected and are subject to underwriting criteria. Information contained within this article is accurate at the time of publishing but may be subject to change.

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