What is it
When a horse makes an unusual respiratory noise during exercise they are often called 'whistlers' or 'roarers'. The noise occurs when the horse breathes in. It is more common in larger horses but is sometimes seen in ponies.
The noise made can vary from a whistle to a roar. It usually occurs when the horse is galloping to full extent (fast exercise). However, in some horses a noise can be heard when they are undertaking less strenuous exercise.
Laryngeal Hemiplegia is usually the cause of the noise - this is when the muscles on one side are either partially or totally paralysed. This causes interference with the passage of air (which is increased during fast exercise) through the larynx, resulting in the noise. Laryngeal Hemiplegia is progressive.
Other causes can include cysts or tumours forming in the epiglottis which will cause an obstruction to the larynx, or infection can also cause the horse to make an unusual noise.
If you suspect this problem call the vet. Listening to the horse during exercise is the first step. Following this an endoscopic examination can be used to look at the larynx as the horse breathes.
Horses with mild Laryngeal Hemiplegia that only undergo gentle exercise can continue without treatment. However, they need to be monitored regularly and their respiratory tracts kept healthy using low dust bedding, good ventilation etc.
In some situations the 'Hobday' operation can help, in others a 'tie back' operation will also be needed.
When another cause has been identified this can be treated appropriately. For example antibiotics for infection.
As conformation is thought to have an effect there is a limit to what can be done to prevent Laryngeal Hemiplegia. For other causes, keeping your horse in a clean, dust free environment, vaccinations and good hygiene can help reduce the chance of infection.
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