Alternative Options for COPD in Horses
The following is a guest post written by Fonna Lawhon, a horse owner who extensively researched alternative treatments for COPD in horse after her own horse was diagnosed with the disease.
Alternative Options for COPD in Horses
Living in southwest Florida with a horse that has COPD is quite the challenge. Summer presents such harsh extremes, making it hard for a horse with compromised lungs. Six years ago, my new Florida Cracker horse, San Ann Ramone, aka Ray, came in from pasture with a dry cough. Subsequent tests indicated he had high Ige levels, signaling allergies. The diagnosis: COPD. Biannual vaccinations had likely over-stimulated Ray’s immune system. He could not rebalance as healthy horses do and was overreacting to allergens. My vet prescribed Dexamethasone, admittedly to shut down his immune system.
After twenty-five years experience with treating my own animals with alternative methods, I naturally began to question the conventional wisdom. Did Ray really need to be on steroids for the rest of his life? Could there be an alternative approach that would rebalance his immune without having to shut it down? Could we cure his COPD, or at least manage the symptoms, without assaulting his body with medicine that is known to be harmful when given long term?
I had no idea how frustrating, difficult, and time consuming it would be to find answers. But my desire to heal Ray fueled an obsession and soon led me to a greater understanding of the immune system. This understanding would eventually help me to create a better life for Ray.
At first I relented to using small doses of Dexamethasone, but I soon found I was able to stop using the steroid altogether in the winter when he wan’t having to deal with the heat and humidity. I could control a periodic cough with Air Power cough syrup. It contains all-natural ingredients and lasts for twelve hours.
I began treatment with herbs like nettle, mullein, and dong quai. Over time, I expanded and tried gingko, ginger, magnolia bark, and also flax seed. For a couple of weeks in spring and fall, I started using Milk Thistle to cleanse and tone the liver and Cleavers to flush the lymphatic system. He refused some of the herbs at first but I was later able to get him to eat almost anything mixed with the herb Fenugreek. Some herbs needed unsweetened applesauce or a packet of stevia mixed in.
My first big breakthrough was with the herbal adaptogen, Schisandra. It stopped his cough 95%, though he would still occasionally develop a spasmodic cough in winter. Encouraged, I continued looking for the formula to replace the steroid which was still critically needed every April.
I came to believe a vital link in COPD treatment is proteolytic enzymes. These enzymes dissolve the fibrin which hardens lung tissue due to chronic inflammation. Unfortunately they must be taken on an empty stomach….no food for 30 minutes. Not easy! I found a way to bypass the stomach using a syringe administered by mouth. I used 20cc of water mixed with the enzymes and a little Fenugreek. This small amount is absorbed by the subcutaneous tissue and enters the bloodstream.
I would like to mention some trial and error alternatives that did not work for Ray. Since all horses are different, you may want to experiment with them. These included Cetyl M, Spirulina, Earth Angel COPD Formula, Herbsmith Formula bai he gu jin san, SmartBreathe, and Smooth Run Challenge with beta-glucans and colostrum. For me, the jury is still out on Jiaogulan, an immune modulating herb I started for short periods but had to discontinue in order to give combination formulas an honest trial.
Horses with allergies should not be given Turmeric, Quercetin, Green Tea or Chia Seeds (high in Quercetin). These will increase the hyper immune state. It is wise to be aware how any herb or supplement may affect the immune system. At first I avoided everything that claimed to boost the immune response. I eventually learned that was a mistake though.
Knowing that adaptogens are perfect for balancing the immune system, I added extracts of Ashwaganda and Reishi Mushroom. Also, for its healing power, I added Grape Seed Extract, which is 20 times more potent than Vitamin C and 50 times stronger than Vitamin E.
Although his symptoms improved, Ray remained dependent upon the dexamethasone at times. This past spring, I was depressed and distraught, thinking I would most likely have to start the Dex again in April. But I didn’t want to give up. I just needed a door to open.
That door opened when I was led to an article by Dr. Brenda Bishop, DVM.
Although her article addressed Equine Shivers, I learned the osteo-arthritis drug Pentosan would block mast cells, inhibiting histamine. The only side effect of Pentosan is mild blood thinning. Could Pentosan replace Dexamethasone? Understanding how Pentosan worked led me further in my understanding of the inflammatory process that takes place in COPD.
Leukotrienes cause lung inflammation, and are 100 times more potent than histamine! I needed to find something that would reduce leukotrienes. The breakthrough came in May. I tried N Acetyl L-Cysteine (5000mg-6000mg. 2x) and Perilla powder (Tablespoon 2x) to block mast cells and leukotrienes. I also added Perilla seed oil because of its Omega 3 fatty acid, which helps to reduce the prostaglandins involved in the inflammatory cascade pattern. So far, it has worked well and I’ve not had to use Dex since.
When my vet came in July for Coggins tests, I mentioned that Ray was no longer on Dex. He checked his respiration and said it was the best he had seen him breathe in the past few years! I was deeply relieved, and deeply grateful for answered prayers. (When testing breathing improvement always look at nostril flare, not stomach muscles on exhale. You can detect the smallest changes.) We had beaten the symptoms but not necessarily the COPD itself.
Since I still had questions about Pentosan, I emailed Dr. Bishop. Soon we were talking on the phone. She is a delightful person and a fine professional. She told me Pentosan could replace dexamethasone, but the most wonderful thing she told me was that she had three horses completely healed of COPD this year using herbs! They were treated for a Bartonella infection. Bartonella? A very unknown source of COPD, to say the least. Dr. Bishop explained that it’s trajectory over time is autoimmunity.
She relayed that one of the most alarming facts about Bartonella is it that should be suspected in every chronic illness or disease in horses, dogs, cats and people! Bartonella is transmitted from biting flies, ticks, mosquitoes, lice, spiders, rodent fleas and especially cat fleas. It makes sense the infection may be the reason so many horses have COPD.
Dr. Bishop advised me to assume Ray has Bartonella until proven otherwise. She recommended the Equine Bartonella kit from Effective Pet Wellness and this June I started it, and completed the treatment August 11th. I’m not ready to pronounce his complete cure, but his progress has been phenomenal.
I feel so fortunate with Ray’s improvements, and my passion and appreciation for alternative medicine has been renewed. Ray is worth every bit of the struggle. He is sweet, affectionate, attentive, and willing to please. Not to mention the poster horse for disposition! Who wouldn’t want to continue the journey with a horse like that!