Runny Nose: Nuisance Or Something More Serious?

With the rise in cases of both equine herpes virus and strangles in horses in the United States, horse owners and caretakers have every right to be on high alert to any changes in a horse’s health or demeanor. Though some symptoms are always a red flag — like a horse who’s unsteady on his feet — some symptoms can be caused by something far less sinister than an equine illness. 

A horse with a runny nose is always something to note, but a bit more work may be required to determine its cause. 

Look closely at discharge color, odor, quantity and consistency, as well as if there is anything in the discharge like dirt, debris or feed. Notice if the discharge is coming from one nostril or two, as well as the horse’s demeanor. A check of his vital signs is in order. 

If the horse’s nasal discharge is clear and thin, and he’s bright and acting normally, he most likely inhaled some dust or hay and has irritated his nasal passages, but is otherwise fine. A small trickle of bright red blood that stops bleeding in minutes is also most likely nothing to be concerned about—the horse probably got poked with a piece of stemmy hay. 

The following require a call to the vet as they may indicate serious issues: 

  • Discharge that includes saliva or chewed food, which could mean the horse is choking. 
  • Bright red blood that is flowing freely for more than 30 minutes may be a sign of nasal passage injury.
  • Blood that is dark and draining could indicate that the horse has blood accumulating in his sinuses or respiratory tract. 
  • Thick, yellow mucus can be a sign of a viral or bacterial infection, or strangles. 
  • Discharge that smells, which may be indicative of an infection. 

If the discharge indicates the horse may have an infection or contagious disease, keep him away from other horses and tell the vet what he or she may be dealing with before they arrive so they can adequately prepare. Don’t handle any other horses before the vet arrives; if there’s no other option, be sure to wash and sanitize hands and change clothes whenever possible. 

Read more at EQUUS

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