Comparison of Airway Response in Recurrent Airway Obstruction-Affected Horses Fed Steamed Versus Non-steamed Hay

TR Number



Journal Title

Journal ISSN

Volume Title


Virginia Tech


Recurrent Airway Obstruction (RAO)-affected horses experience bronchoconstriction and airway inflammation in response to inhalation of irritants including hay molds. Steaming hay reduces fungal content, but the effect on the antigenic potential has not been investigated. We tested the hypothesis that RAO-affected horses develop less severe clinical disease when fed steamed versus non-steamed hay and this reduction coincides with decreased hay fungal content.

Six RAO-affected horses in clinical remission were divided in two groups and fed steamed or non-steamed hay for 10 days using a two-way cross-over design. Hay was steamed using a commercial hay-steamer. Clinical assessment was performed daily. Full assessment, including airway endoscopy, tracheal mucous scores and maximal change in pleural pressure, was performed on days 1, 5, and 10. Bronchial fluid sampling and cytology were performed on days 1 and 10. Hay core samples were collected pre- and post-steaming and cultured to determine fungal and bacterial concentrations.

Statistical analysis was based on data distribution and quantity and performed using SAS®. P-value <0.05 was significant.

Steaming significantly decreased the number of bacterial and fungal colony-forming-units in hay. Horses fed non-steamed hay experienced a significant increase in clinical score and a trend towards airway neutrophilia, while parameters were unchanged in horses fed steamed hay. Only horses fed non-steamed hay experienced a significant increase in tracheal mucous score. Horses fed steamed hay gained significantly more weight compared to horses fed non-steamed hay, even though the amount of hay consumed not greater on a dry matter basis.

These results indicate that steaming reduces the RAO-affected horse's response to hay which coincides with a reduction in viable fungal content of hay.



Recurrent Airway Obstruction, Hay, Steaming, Fungus, Horses