Cold, dry winter air can leave horses susceptible to irritation, respiratory pathogens and bronchoconstriction. Horses breathe entirely through their nostrils; while at rest they may inhale and exhale 10 times a minute, during strenuous work that number can increase rapidly, meaning that more than 1,000 liters of air are inhaled per minute.
The air enters through the nose, goes down the windpipe and then enters the bronchioles and alveoli of the lungs where it's diffused into the bloodstream. The nasal passages help to warm cold air and block out larger irritants like dust and mold, reports The Horse.
As air travels down the windpipe, a second defense mechanism comes into play: the mucociliary apparatus, which consists of cilia and a layer of mucus that trap and remove irritants before they reach the lungs. Once air reaches the alveoli and bronchioles, special cells help protect the respiratory tract.
Cold winter air can dry the tissues lining the tract, impairing the ability to block irritants. Alveoli and bronchioles are sensitive to temperature, so cold air increases the chance of bronchoconstriction. Exercising a horse in very cold temperatures may increase the chance of constriction and airway inflammation.
To help a horse's respiratory tract stay as healthy as possible in the winter, ensure that horses kept in stalls have adequate ventilation, even if temperatures are cod. Turning horses out as much as possible will also help, and minimizing activities like cleaning stalls when horses are inside or exercising in a dusty indoor will mitigate as many irritants as possible.
Read more at The Horse.
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