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Device helps horses with heaves breathe easier

By Michelle Hall and Jessica Clark


Veterinarians at the Kansas State University Veterinary Medical Teaching Hospital are helping horses with heaves breathe just a little easier.

Dr. Bonnie Rush, professor of equine internal medicine, has been helping to test medications administered through a horse's nostril in an aerosolized form, similar to an inhaler for humans. Heaves is a condition similar to asthma. One of the drugs, Albuterol, a bronchodilator that opens constricted airways, is now on the market after Rush's testing. She is currently in the process of testing a steroid medication, Beclomethasone, that helps to keep airways open and reduce inflammation.

using inhaler"This treatment uses a device that directly administers the drug to the horse's respiratory system, making it faster, more effective and safer," Rush said. Other devices for treating heaves in horses include oral delivery and inhaled delivery using a mask that covers the entire mouth. However, both methods have less-efficient drug delivery and the mask is uncomfortable and distressing for the horse.

3M developed the concept of the inhaler-like device more than 12 years ago; K-State was one of the sites at which it was tested. Rush conducted the tests for Albuterol over a period of eight years on a herd of horses she maintains as part of the Food and Drug Administration approval process. She tested the dosage, duration, rate and frequency of the treatment.

Although the product was designed for horses with heaves, it has proven to help horses at the K-State's veterinary hospital with other problems, such as pneumonia and those with difficulty exercising due to breathing problems.

"It's designed for horses breathing hard," Rush said. "It makes a good pre-exercise drug and has been very useful to us."

The treatment is effective for one to three hours after administration, Rush said.

Spring 2003