Classify that cough


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Does your horse cough during exercise? Does his cough sound wet? Is it accompanied by yellow mucus? Some equine respiratory reactions are serious and require the attention of your vet, but some are minor and can be treated with an antitussive like ZEV by Dominion Vet Labs.

There is a lot of good literature on equine respiratory infections out there. I’ve distilled a few articles into this quick cheat sheet that you can use to classify your horse’s cough.

Horse coughs a few times during warm-up exercise, then is fine.

If your horse is otherwise healthy, this cough could be caused by an accumulation of mucus behind the larynx. This is common and no treatment is required. However, if your horse only coughs during warm-up exercise inside an arena, you may be dealing with a reaction to airborne particles. ZEV can help treat minor upper respiratory tract problems or bronchial irritations, and it can provide relief from reactions to airborne particles. Give the horse 45 to 60 ml (3 to 4 tablespoons) of ZEV to treat the cough, water your arena surface to remove dust and open doors or windows for ventilation. If the horse’s cough does not improve after 48 hours, consult your vet. Untreated airway reactivity can lead to heaves.

Horse has a frequent, wet cough that worsens at certain times or in certain environments.

If this cough worsens when the horse is in the barn, arena or exercised, but improves when the horse is turned out to pasture, you may be dealing with recurrent airway obstruction (RAO), also known as heaves.

“This condition is an allergic response to airborne antigens, such as dust from bedding or hay. When the antigens are inhaled they trigger bronchospasm that narrows the airways and stimulates copious mucus production. The horse has to work harder to breathe, and coughs are a reaction to the mucus and increased airway reactivity.” (Equus Magazine)

ZEV can provide temporary relief of heaves symptoms, making exercise more comfortable for the horse. However, you will need to consult your veterinarian for a long-term treatment plan.

Horse has a frequent, dry cough and a temperature higher than 38.3°C.

If your horse has these symptoms, shows little interest in food and acts lethargic, he may have contracted a virus. Notify your veterinarian, give the horse some time off and make sure he gets plenty of fresh air. Your vet may not need to come out to see your horse, but he or she will be able to provide some helpful advice on supporting the horse’s immune system. For every day of coughing, the horse should have two days of rest. Because you are using the cough to gauge the activity of the virus, avoid giving the horse a cough suppressant unless recommended by your veterinarian.



Horse has a periodic wet cough with grey or yellow nasal discharge.

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Image from

If your horse has these symptoms along with a temperature higher than 38.3°C, lethargy and reduced appetite, he may have a bacterial infection. Notify your veterinarian immediately as he or she may want to start a course of antibiotics. Mucus helps remove bacteria and damaged tissue from the respiratory tract, but if it inhibits breathing, your veterinarian may recommend ZEV. It provides temporary relief from nasal congestion. Mix 45 to 60 ml (3 to 4 tablespoons) of liquid ZEV® with equal parts of honey, molasses or corn syrup. Use a dosage syringe to administer the same way you would give a paste wormer, or mix it into your horse’s feed.

I hope this article helps you the next time you hear a cough at the farm. With a bottle of ZEV and an equine thermometer in your tack room, you’ll be ready to diagnose and potentially treat common coughs.


How Bad is Your Horse’s Cough? Equus Magazine.

Veterinary Institute of Integrative Medicine

Normal Vital Signs and Health Indicators,

2 thoughts on “Classify that cough

  1. Hello, just bought a bottle of Zev for my horse. The bay thjs gear was not easy to mame around here. Jts very dry and dusty round bales. My horse had been eating it 2 moths before showing any signs of coughing. I just started giving him zev in his feed with a bit of warm water to create some steam and he always coughsba few times right after having the zev. Is this normal? Does that mean that he is clearing his throught? Thank you 🙂

    • Yes Mallorie, it’s normal for your horse to cough after giving Zev. He’s probably trying to cough something up. A little exercise can help work things through too.

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