University of Saskatchewan

Western College of Veterinary Medicine

Equine respiratory research

Horses needed for research studies

A healthy airway is essential to horses, both for their well being and performance. Early detection and treatment of airway disease may prevent chronic problems; however, as some treatments can have undesired side effects, unnecessary treatment should be avoided.

Recurrent airway obstruction (RAO) or “heaves” is a chronic disease resulting from sensitivity to dust and mould in the environment. Affected horses show asthma-like signs such as coughing and exercise intolerance.

Management of heaves usually consists of changing the environment to which the horse is exposed. Corticosteroid therapy is often implemented to help reduce the lung inflammation during acute episodes of heaves.

We still require much more information to help us better understand how heaves develops and how best to approach treatment, and we invite horse owners to participate in our studies.

Studies planned for 2014

Study 1: Understanding the significance of a positive bacterial culture for the treatment of horses with recurrent airway obstruction

Investigators: Drs. Husulak*, Montgomery, Manning, Epp, Lohmann (Large Animal Clinical Sciences) and Dr. Burgess (Veterinary Clinical Pathology). *Dr. Husulak is a graduate student and clinical resident.

Time frame: May-October 2014

Background and purpose: Horses with RAO frequently have bacteria isolated from their airway, but the significance of this finding is unknown. Human asthma research suggests that bacteria may contribute to disease. Therefore the following question arises: should horses with RAO and presence of bacteria in the airway be treated with antibiotics in addition to conventional anti-inflammatory therapy?

To assess this question, horses with heaves and confirmed presence of airway bacteria will be treated with or without the addition of antibiotics to their treatment plan and their response to either treatment will be assessed.

We are looking for 12 horses with heaves (RAO) to participate in this study.

To be eligible for the study, horses and need to fulfil the following criteria:

All study procedures can be performed on farm and will include the following (free of charge):


Study 2: Characterization of the airway microbiome in healthy horses and horses with heaves

Investigators: Drs. Lohmann, Montgomery (Large Animal Clinical Sciences), Dr. Hill (Veterinary Microbiology) and Dr. Burgess (Veterinary Clinical Pathology).

Funding: ACVIM Foundation/Zoetis, WCVM Equine Health Research Fund

Time frame: April-October 2014

Background and purpose: Horses with RAO frequently have bacteria isolated from their airway, but the significance of this finding is unknown. Recent studies in people with comparable diseases have suggested that the microbes (bacteria) colonizing the airways interact with the host immune system and may be important for disease development or progression.

We have access to a methodology that allows us to characterize complex microbial communities on a genetic level, which is referred to as establishment of a “microbiome." We will investigate the potential relevance of this microbiome by comparing healthy horses to those with heaves.

We are looking for 12 healthy horses and 12 horses with heaves (RAO) to participate in this study.

HEALTHY HORSES must:

HORSES WITH HEAVES must:

All study procedures can be performed on farm and will include the following (free of charge):

If you are interested in enrolling your horse in one of our studies, please contact us for more detailed information about the procedures involved.

Thank you for your interest in the advancement of equine health.

Contact information:

Dr. Julia Montgomery
Tel: 306-966-7025  

Dr. Katharina Lohmann
Tel: 306-966-7157 

Additional information: