Treating colds and flu in horses

Herbs can help deal with a variety of coughs, says Kim Dyson.

Nasal discharge is a clear sign of influenza or bronchial infection. It is often accompanied by coughing.
Photo: Kim Dyson

Most horse owners inoculate against equine influenza – and hope that their horses never get ill. But at some point, every owner has walked into the stables and heard a barking sound or seen yellow mucous dripping from a horse’s nostrils.

Most coughs and colds are viral, so the horse has to fight the infection on its own. But an owner can help by providing the optimal healing environment – and nothing helps a horse recover as well as rest and good stable management.

I find complementary remedies work hand in hand with those prescribed by your vet. But if you choose to use home remedies for a cough, it is important to identify its cause. Contact your vet for a diagnosis, as there are several different types of cough.

Coughing: vital for breathing
A cough is the body’s natural reflex to any irritation, inflammation or blockage in the airway, and is essential as it keeps the bronchial tubes open and clear. It is usually associated with influenza or a bronchial infection. Bear in mind when treating a cough that the aim is to make the cough more effective rather than suppressing it. Herbs can be used to treat coughs, although they take a little longer to work. If you are treating a long-term illness such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, herbs make a good choice.

The herbs to use
Echinacea treats infectious coughs and colds very effectively. Thyme is a powerful antiseptic. It relieves tight, dry coughs linked with respiratory infections. In the days before antibiotics, thyme was used to treat pneumonia. If there is no improvement, however, consult a vet as soon as possible.

Coltsfoot (Tussilago farfara) is the best remedy for an irritating spasmodic cough. Place one handful of the dry herb in the feed twice a day. Alternatively, make a cup of tea with coltsfoot, thyme, ginger and honey and put it in the feed twice a day. If you’re dealing with a spasmodic dry cough, administer 10 drops of bryonia tincture under the tongue every 15 minutes until the symptoms seem better. Then reduce the dose to three times a day. If the cough is worse in the morning and in fresh air, try aconite. For a deep, harsh cough, I add drosera to my honey mix.

At the first signs of a cough, give 10 pills of Ferrum Phosphoricum twice a day in a small amount of grated carrot. Alternatively, crush the pills and rub them into the gums. Silica helps when you are dealing with a chronic cough, and magnesium phosphate helps in paroxysms of coughing.

I feed dried powdered moringa leaf to a sick horse. This helps give the body the nutrients needed to fight infection. Administer 30g/day to 45g/day in a warm, damp feed with honey. This soothes the throat. Aloe vera juice is also beneficial for the airways.

Rest – a crucial factor
The importance of rest after a respiratory infection cannot be overstated. Failure to provide sufficient rest – a minimum of six weeks – can result in irreversible damage to the heart and lungs. Finally, whatever type of cough or cold you are treating, keep in mind that a warm, quiet environment goes a long way towards ensuring a speedy recovery.