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Understanding Heaves

Like a lot of diseases that impact on performance, the genetic basis of their occurrence is starting to be unraveled by geneticists and scientists and can only help in the long term to make horses, more healthy and happy.

Recurrent Airway Obstruction (RAO or heaves) is an allergic, inflammatory, and obstructive airway disease that afflicts older horses. RAO used to be called COPD, or Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease, but in 2000 the name was changed to RAO, or simply “heaves.” The condition is similar to human asthma and is a chronic disease that requires a life-long change in the management of the horse. The earlier that heaves is recognized and diagnosed, and the more rigorously the horse’s environment is changed as to avoid recurring episodes of heaves attacks, the better the outcome and usefulness of that horse will be.

Researchers in Canada say they have now identified the genetic pathway of genes that are implicated in heaves. This is a very important step for scientists towards creating effective treatments for heaves. Rather than the traditional, and somewhat effective use of bronchodilators and corticosteroids, scientists will be able to create drugs that specifically target the genetic pathway involved in this disease creating better outcomes for the horse.

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