Facial Eczema: Interesting new study data

Have you noticed your horse has a runny nose or cough?

Many people often get worried this time of year that their horses may get affected by facial eczema like other animals (cows, sheep, goats and alpacas). If you have any of these other animals, you may already know about this disease. It’s caused by the fungus Pithomyces chartarum, which causes liver disease and a characteristic photosensitising skin reaction, where skin becomes sunburnt and skin peels off in poorly haired or white-haired areas.

Luckily for us, horses are not known to get this disease. However, what we do often see during facial eczema season (Jan-May) is horses with nasal discharge and developing a dry cough. A recent journal article by Schӧniger 2016 linked the facial eczema fungus to rhinitis (inflammation of the nasal passages) in a horse. Even though more research is needed, this does fit with what our vets often observe in horses during the early autumn months. In addition, horse owners often start feeding hay in this period, which can also irritate the airways. Usually these mild respiratory symptoms are self-limiting and clear on their own, but occasionally they don’t and can develop into pneumonia or a condition called heaves (allergic airway disease).

Some things that can help your horse recover from mild respiratory signs can be:

  • Wetting hay or feed just before it is fed to reduce dust and irritants
  • Reduce the amount of pasture your horse has and supplement with feeds that are less irritating
  • Avoid your horse standing in dusty yards or stables by dampening the surface or standing them on concrete/grass while saddling up etc.

When do you need to get worried? If your horse goes off its feed, has labored breathing, if the nasal discharge is no longer clear (it might turn yellow or green in appearance), elevated temperature (>38.3°C), increased respiratory rate (over 16 breaths/minute) or is regularly coughing, where they don’t seem to be able to clear their throat. All of these could be cause for concern and likely a vet visit is required.


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