We have had horses for nearly 35 years and only now have we come up with our first case of heaves. Heaves in horses is somewhere between asthma and COPD in people. Here is the definition as listed by Colorado State University Equine Department:
Heaves is a chronic, non-infectious airway condition of horses that also is called recurrent airway obstruction, or RAO, and was formerly known as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease or COPD. The disease occurs in horses more than 6 years of age and is the result of an allergic reaction to inhaled particles.
Our Welsh pony, Steele, is our last remaining equine. He has bouts of itchiness each summer that we treat with a regimen of dexamethasone which is a steroid. In this instance, dex comes as a bright orange powder to be mixed in with feed. I'm not sure why they feel the need to color it orange but it does make it dramatically different than the other medications Steele gets that come in the same silvery pouches from the same compounding pharmacy.
Steele was getting his little packet of dex every other day as prescribed for more than a week. His itchiness had resolved but his breathing was getting worse. I could hear him breathing from yards away and what started as slightly labored breathing got to the point where he looked like he was gasping for breath. I called the vet. The prescription was an injection of 10 cc's dexamethasone into the neck muscle twice a day for 2 to 3 days. OK. I can do this. I give shots fairly regularly, but I give SubQ shots not IM shots. SubQ means just under the skin. That's easy. But intramuscular is trickier. It needs to go into the muscle, not into the bone and not into a blood vessel. And the neck bones of a horse are not where you would expect them to be looking at the horse's neck. I've done it before but not recently so I had to google it. Google is your friend. I found a very nice cowboy to explain to me just where to give the shots.
So now it is a week later. Steele got his five injections - he was kind, I was confident. His breathing is back to normal. It's not raspy or raged, no gasping or odd exertion at all. The vet has ordered a different medication for Steele and until it arrives he is back on his little pouches of bright orange dex. Horses are like people - you don't want them on steroids any longer than absolutely necessary.
Heaves is generally related to molds in the hay and straw fed/used for horses. One of the strong recommendations is to move a horse with heaves onto pasture. In this case, Steele is already there. He lives on pasture, hasn't been in a stall since the February freeze and hasn't been fed any hay since March. He has never seen straw at any point in his life. I have no idea what he is allergic to in his pasture but we will probably be giving him anti-heaves meds for the duration. It is a huge relief to wander past Steele and not be able to hear him breathing.