Hello COTH. I have a very well preserved WB in his mid twenties who has developed a cough under two distinct unrelated conditions. I thought I would pick the collective brain of COTH while I study up on respiratory, swallowing and allergy issues. I really don’t know which one I have. Maybe I have all of them.
The problem: A mild cough began last fall which occurred only at the beginning of exercise. It completely disappeared over the winter (not much exercise occurring) then reappeared about a five weeks ago along with a more severe cough while eating.
Here are the relevant facts:
1. Cough initially occurred once or twice upon exercise in a moist sand arena and occasionally produced clear phlegm but no nasal discharge. One good cough on the first trot circle and he was fine for the remainder of the ride. Horse is in very light work but not winded by normal exercise. Breathing is quiet and unlabored. 2. Stable staff reports they have recently heard horse coughing in grass turnout (very grazed down) where he spends approx 6 hours a day. It has been wet here so this doesn't seem related to dust. Currently no hay is being fed in turnout. His pasture mates are both healthy. 3. I witnessed a more severe coughing spell last night while he was consuming alfalfa. I thought it was the start of choke but it resolved itself in about thirty seconds of very distressed sounding coughing which ejected chewed hay from the mouth only. I wet ( not soaked) the remaining alfalfa and the issue did not repeat. This is the second time this has been noticed. The BM reported a similar episode while eating dry Timothy about three weeks ago, again with no nasal discharge. 4. Horse is stalled at night on rubber mats with shavings. 5. Horse is bright eyed, energetic, shiny and at a good weight. He has been eating hay more slowly but hasn't been off feed or ill in any way. He doesn't bolt or sling grain and doesn't quid. 6. He doesn't always cough while eating hay but when he does it seems deep and involves an open mouth and neck craning. When related to exercise it seems more superficial.
Here’s what I have done so far:
1. Called vet. Teeth had a few points which were easily corrected but otherwise horse received a clean bill of health. Vet though tooth sensitivity might be an issue but teeth looked very good for his age. 2. Pelleted senior feed now fed wet from ground feeder. Horse already eats hay from ground/ clean rubber mat. 3. Inspected new hay....a bit stemmy and a little dusty so I am now steaming it for about an hour before feeding as often as I can which has been about 75% of his meals as of last week. (I board but I am negotiating at least soaking... I doubt they will steam for me) 4. Put the horse on Freeway gold (too recent to tell if its working) 5. Called the vet again. He doesn't seem too concerned but offered to do another work up if the above measures don't resolve the issue. He did not think the horse had choked or that he was at any increased risk of choke based on the prior exam. The horse has never choked in the past. 6. Horse is already on MSM.
Here are my next options:
1. Call vet back for an allergy test. This might sound nuts but it seems like its a scratchy, dry throat issue....Although he foams up the bit like an expresso machine when ridden. 1.5 Soak the hay 100% of the time and wait to see if that helps. Steaming kills spores but soaking seems to soften it more effectively. 2. Switch to a chopped/ packaged hay to see if current hay is the issue. Barn hay is adequate but I wouldn't accuse it of being the highest quality. A couple of other horses have decided they won't eat it and one sensitive TB has developed a Timothy allergy. 3. Move horse outside. Although the outdoor option is a pen/ shed row arrangement that is heavily sanded so this won't help a dust allergy once the weather becomes drier. 4. ...??
What would you do next if this was your beloved oldster? All of the above or something different? Am I missing anything important or am I getting too worked up over what is probably a seasonal allergy?
Update: Horse had a cracked and loose molar removed two days ago. He displayed a complete array of gagging for the vet post removal. The vet believes the problem is not choking rather difficulty swallowing hopefully brought on by incomplete chewing of hay. All his roughage is now soaked or steamed and he is being transitioned off of the rather stemmy timothy in favor of softer forage. We haven’t ruled out scoping for esophageal issues but this appears to be tooth related after all.