Coughing in horses

When you hear that your horse is constantly coughing, it can be worrying for any owner.

Along with the fear that something they’ve eaten has become dislodged in their throat, the loud noise of a horses’ cough is enough to make any owner fearful that something is wrong with their health.

Coughing is a horses’ bodies’ way to remove foreign object and/or mucus that has been passed on from the lungs or upper airway passages which can happen for a variety of reasons.

In this guide, we’ve shared a number of things to consider when trying to figure out why your horse is coughing, along with a number of health issues that you should keep your eye out for:

Coughing can provide signals about prential health issues in horses

Things to consider

Before assuming the worst, there are a handful of things to consider in order to get the most accurate reason for why your horse is coughing. This includes:

  • How long have they been coughing for? If this is a short time period, it’s more likely to be a dislodged item in their throat.
  • How frequently is your horse coughing?
  • Are there any other symptoms? Such as a high temperature or abnormal breathing
  • Is the cough worse with exercise?

Once you’ve determined these things, you may want to check that your horse isn’t suffering with an illness listed below:

Viral infection or cold

If you notice that your horses’ cough has only really become present within the past few days, they may be suffering with a viral infection or the common cold. Just like humans, mucus from their lungs may have a different consistency with this type of illness and they may need to cough to feel more comfortable.

If you suspect that this is the case, consider how much time your horse has spent outdoors. If the animal has spent long periods of time outdoors in the cold, it could be weather-induced and you may want to consider bringing them indoors until they’re back in good health.

Inflammatory airway disease

Although this type of illness is more common in younger horses, the reason for their coughing could be that they’re suffering from inflammatory airway disease; a form of inflammation in the lower respiratory tract that leaves them struggling to breathe normally.

A persistent cough lasting four weeks or longer can signal this, along with if your horse has a lower tolerance to exercise. If your horse does manage to exercise and the cough becomes worse, this could also signal inflammatory airway disease and you should consult your vet for the best treatment.


Lungworm is fairly common in young horses that are kept within close proximity to donkeys and can present itself alongside a persistent cough.

It is an infection that affects the respiratory system when parasites lay eggs within a horses’ body and can become irritating for the animal. This is because the irritating lungworm eggs work their way up the windpipe when coughed in order to be swallowed.

The treatment for lungworm in horses is a course of anthelmintics that contain chemicals strong enough to kill the parasite and prevent it from breeding further.

Dislodged object stuck in the throat

If your horse is acting normally other than the coughing fits, it could just be as simple as having an item dislodged within their throat.

Things such as wood, food and miscellaneous items that they’ve found outdoors may work their way into your horses’ windpipe. If your horse is able to eat and drink as normal it may be nothing to worry about, but if they’re struggling to eat the item needs to be removed as soon as possible.

As you can see, there are a few reasons why your horse might be coughing, so it’s always best practice to consult your vet for the best treatment.

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