Volcanic ash and equine respiratory health

Excerpted from The Horse

Written by Christa Lesté-Lasserre | April 16 2010 |Article # 16196

Ash and gases emitted since Wednesday’s initial eruption of the Eyjafjallajokull volcano in Iceland could pose breathing risks to anyone exposed, including horses, according to a European equine researcher whose work centers around respiratory disease.

Local horses (living near the volcano) could experience unconsciousness, asphyxiation, or death due to toxicity from carbon dioxide and hydrogen sulfide, said Eric Richard, DVM, MSc, PhD, researcher at the Frank Duncombe Laboratory in France. Hydrogen sulfide and ash could also provoke bronchial constriction, cough, and bronchitis among horses within the country and beyond, he added.

Bronchoalveolar Lavage (BAL) procedures can be used to help diagnose respiratory diseases in horses, including illnesses resulting from exposure to volcanic ash and gases.

Throughout Europe, respiratory problems in horses will follow a similar geographical path as for humans. “Indeed, RAO (recurrent airway obstruction)-affected horses will predominantly represent the ‘at risk’ population, like asthma in humans,” Richard said.

Horses in close proximity to the volcano should be evacuated, and those in peripheral areas should be kept indoors as much as possible. Owners should follow weather reports to know if ash clouds are coming their way. Healthy horses should not be exercised strenuously outside (on a racetrack, for example), and those with pre-existing respiratory diseases should not be exercised at all. Read entire article >>

2 thoughts on “Volcanic ash and equine respiratory health”

  1. From what I saw on TV, the entire area surrounding the volcano is coated with ash that forms a crust when it rains. All vegetation under the crust dies. So on top of the health crisis, there will be a feed crisis. Those horses and their owners are going to need a lot of help.


    1. Yes, they are, Linda. Many from Europe, and especially the UK, plus international organizations, will help as much as we can as soon as we have an idea what is needed and how much.


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