A research project funded by The Horse Trust has developed and validated two simple techniques that can be used to monitor respiratory problems in horses and ponies.

A research project funded by The Horse Trust has developed and validated two simple techniques that can be used to monitor respiratory problems in horses and ponies.
 Equine respiratory device
Researchers in Glasgow claim these techniques could potentially be used by vets to screen for horses with respiratory problems and to assess whether a horse being treated for a respiratory condition is improving. They could also be used by pharmaceutical companies when trialling new treatments for respiratory conditions, such as Recurrent Airway Obstruction (RAO).
Respiratory problems are common in horses, but the only techniques currently available to monitor respiratory inflammation are invasive and cannot be used frequently. Due to this, vets have had no way of objectively assessing whether a particular respiratory treatment or management technique is working.
But now, researchers have developed two simple, non-invasive techniques to enable vets to monitor the severity of respiratory inflammation in horses. Both techniques are well tolerated by horses and ponies and can be used safely and ethically on repeated occasions.
The research, funded by The Horse Trust and led by Sandy Love (Professor of Equine Clinical Studies at the University of Glasgow and director of the Weipers Centre Equine Hospital), has developed a technique that allows vets to easily monitor the frequency of coughing in a horse over a long period of time with 100 per cent sensitivity and 100 per cent specificity.

Cough frequency is known to be a sensitive index of respiratory inflammation, but manually monitoring the number of coughs for an hour each day is not cost-effective. However, Professor Love discovered that a digital recorder attached to a horse’s headcollar could be used to gather data, which could then be quickly analysed. One hour of coughing could be analysed within three minutes by manually examining a graph of the audio file. This analysis time could be speeded up further in a commercial setting by automating the analysis using computer software.
Professor Sandy  LoveThe audio file analysis was found to be 100 per cent sensitive and specific – picking up every cough and perfectly distinguishing coughs from other noises, such as the horse stamping its feet, or a tractor starting.
The research also led to the development of a device – constructed using components readily available from a DIY store – that can be attached to a horse’s head to capture its breath and condense the liquids within the expired air (see picture). This device was used to analyse whether any of the substances in exhaled breath could be used as indicators of respiratory inflammation.
Prof Love also found that the most useful indicator was the pH of the liquid condensed from the expired breath (the pH of the exhaled breath condensate was higher in horses suffering from respiratory inflammation). He also monitored the level of various gases within the expired breath (carbon monoxide, nitric oxide and ethane) but found no significant correlation with respiratory inflammation.
He said: “Both of these techniques could easily be commercialised to enable vets to quickly and ethically monitor respiratory inflammation in horses. They could also result in improved treatment of respiratory conditions, as vets will be able to objectively assess which treatments work or don’t work for a particular horse.”

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