A Horse Is A Horse, Of Course: CPAP For Horses?



A horse is a horse, of course, of course, and no one can talk to a horse of course. But there is a good chance that if your horse were struggling for breath, you would know right away, and you would be quite alarmed. If you breed horses, you would also know that young foals have a hard time breathing during the first few hours of their life. And if you live in a remote location, far from a veterinarian, there is high probability that the foal may not make it. Now, however, there is hope with a little help from our favorite friend: CPAP.

Young horses are susceptible to respiratory disease. The disease is very similar to sleep apnea in that the foal has trouble taking in oxygen, which can shut off vital functions and can quickly become fatal. What makes matters worse is that most horse farms are located hours from an equine hospital, which offers a specialized ventilator and around the clock monitoring. However, this can be expensive and it can be risky. The stress can be just as bad and can force the foal into shock. Yet, with a simple CPAP machine adapted to the unique contours of a young foal, there is a chance to save a lot of young horses’ lives.

Currently, such an equine CPAP machine doesn’t exist, but at a recent convention in Las Vegas the findings were presented using a prototype.  The crowd was certainly wowed and the prototype is now going into production. This is exciting news, because it is really the first time that CPAP has been used on a young foal and it is the first time that continuous positive airway treatment will be used on a wider scale among the equine community. While it may be funny to imagine a bunch of young horses wearing CPAP masks, human sleep apnea sufferers can delight in the fact that they are now not the only species receiving treatment.

Supporting the argument for mass producing a CPAP adapted for horses is evidence that CPAP can not only save lives, it can also have a number of other benefits that contribute to a young horse’s quality of life. It prevented airway collapse, it decreased breathing efforts, increased oxygenation, reduced lung inflammation, and it completely eliminated the risk of complications that are contributed to intubation. Intubation is required in most instances and can increase the chances that a young foal in distress goes into shock.

Researchers note that further studies are required for some minor hiccups in the delivery of pressurized air, but will continue to perfect the system as it has been done for humans. A horse is a horse, of course, but making a CPAP mask work for a horse will be a challenge. Their entire facial physiology is different and young foals may be thrashing around during a respiratory attack.  In the end, though, this groundbreaking revelation could be the beginning of some happy endings for many horse farmers.