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How Omega-3 Fatty Acids and MSM Can Help Your Horse Breathe Easier

Is your horse dealing with a chronic lower airway inflammatory disease, such as recurrent airway obstruction (RAO), inflammatory airway disease (IAD), or asthma? Or is your area plagued by wildfire smoke, causing bad air quality? It’s no secret that these conditions are stressful on horses and their owners. Fortunately, scientific research has continued to reveal how nutrition can positively impact a horse’s recovery from these illnesses and conditions.  Omega-3 fatty acids and MSM are two key nutrients that have been proven to aid in fighting respiratory issues. Let’s take a closer look at both of these compounds and how they can help your horse heal faster and live a happier, healthier life.  In this article we talk about what IAD and RAO is, the benefits of Omega-3 fatty acids and MSM and how they can help with horses with breathing issues from illness or stress from wildfire smoke.

Difference between IAD and RAO

Inflammatory airway disease (IAD) is most often characterized by exercise intolerance and intermittent coughing, in horses that are normal at rest.The primary cause of IAD in horses is exposure to environmental irritants, such as dust, mold spores, pollen, and smoke. These irritants can trigger an allergic reaction in the horse's respiratory system.These horses can completely recover, either with treatment or occasionally spontaneously. 

Commonly known as “heaves” because of the heaving movement of the horse's abdomen during breathing,recurrent airway obstruction (RAO) is a respiratory conditionin horses characterized by airway narrowing (broncho

constriction), mucus production, and bronchospasm. Horses with RAOmay show mild symptoms, such as coughing or nasal discharge, which are often mistaken for common cold or allergies. As the severity of the disease escalates, the symptoms  can start affecting the horse's performance and overall well-being.Unlike IAD, horses with RAO are not normal at rest. They have an increased respiratory rate and/or cough just standing around. Because of this, they will develop the classic “heave line” that can be seen along the bottom edge of the ribs due to the enlargement of the abdominal muscles from consistent work. Horses that are severely affected can also exhibit weight loss, and anorexia.  

Smokey environment, horse with breathing issues

Much like asthma in people, RAO has allergic and inflammatory components The most common triggers of heaves is exposure to environmental irritants, such as dust, mold spores, pollen, endotoxins in hay and smoke. These irritants can trigger an allergic reaction in the horse's respiratory system, leading to the development of heaves.

What are Omega-3 Fatty Acids?

Omega-3 fatty acids found in fish oils and certain plants like flaxseed. It has many health benefits for humans, including reducing inflammation, lowering blood pressure, and possibly reducing the risk of heart disease. There is also evidence that it can help with brain function and be good for your joints. For horses, Omega-3 is especially important for their immune system, joints and respiratory system. 

What is MSM?

Methylsulfonylmethane (MSM) is a naturally occurring sulfur-containing compound that is found in the soil, certain plants, and animals. It has become a very popular supplement with a wide variety of uses. Research studies show that it helps to lower inflammation, reduce joint pain, improve skin conditions, help speed up recovery after oxidative stress, and also help decrease allergy symptoms. 

How Can Omega-3 fatty acids and MSM Help My Horse’s Breathing Issues?

Omega-3 fatty acids have been shown to help horses with chronic respiratory diseases such as heaves and IAD. It is believed that when horses with breathing issues are fed MSM, they have lower cytokine levels in their lungs. Cytokines are proteins that cause inflammation and they are often found in higher amounts in horses struggling with lower airway issues. A study done at Purdue with a low dust diet showed that after 8 weeks of Omega-3 supplementation with MSM horses with RAO had cough scores that improved by 60%, and their respiratory effort decreased by 48%. In addition, the horses on Omega-3 fatty acid supplementation and MSM had less inflamed, healthier lower airways than horses that didn’t have Omega-3 supplementation and MSM. By helping to reduce the inflammation in lower airways Omega-3 fatty acid supplementation and MSM can help horses that are being stressed by most respiratory issues, such as smoke inhalation, RAO, or IAD.  

Horse with blaze in stall

Managing Breathing Issues

The primary goal of any respiratory issues is to reduce inflammation, open up the airways, and alleviate the horse's respiratory distress.  Reducing inflammation can be done through the supplementation of Omega-3 and MSM, both for treatment and prevention.

One of the most effective ways to manage breathing issues in horses such as heaves or IAD is to minimize their exposure to environmental irritants. This can be achieved by providing clean and dust-free bedding, using low-dust forage and hay, and ensuring proper ventilation in the stable. Soaking hay can also help reduce dust particles, making it easier for horses to breathe. When it is smoky all of these steps along with providing clean drinking water can help to reduce the stress on your horse’s lungs. 

For horses with IAD or heaves, veterinarians may prescribe medications to control the inflammation and mucus production in the horse's airways. Corticosteroids, bronchodilators, and antihistamines are commonly used to manage RAO symptoms.

Final Words: Are Omega-3 Fatty Acids and MSM truly effective for treating breathing issues in horses?

While every horse is different, the combination of Omega-3 fatty acids and MSM along with preventative measures like promoting better cardio through exercise when the air quality is good and limiting aerobic exercise when air quality is bad, and minimizing external debris can help to keep your horse’s lungs healthy.  Research has shown that Omega-3 fatty acids and MSM are excellent sources of natural anti-inflammatory component for horses with IAD or heaves. Furthermore, the improvement in lung health implies that Omega-3 fatty acids and MSM are beneficial for horses dealing with smoke from wildfires. When it comes to finding supplements that will help your horse’s breathing issues you want to make sure you’re giving him only the best. Horse Guard’sFlaxen Flow is 100% flaxseed oil, which is packed with Omega-3 fatty acids.  Trifecta,Flex Guard,Equine Joint Guard,Equine Hoof Guard, andBiotin Hoof Blast all contain MSM. These two great nutrients along with other important nutrients that can help your horse fight off respiratory issues and live a healthier, happier life.

*Nogradi, N., L.L. Couetil, J. Messick, et al. 2014.Omega-3 fatty acid supplementation provides an additional benefit to a low-dust diet in the management of horses with chronic lower airway inflammatory disease. Journal of Internal Veterinary Medicine. In press.

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