The Comparison of Airway Responses of Normal Horses Fed Round Bale versus Square Bale Hay


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Virginia Tech


Background – Feeding horses round bale hay (RBH) has been associated with airway inflammation. The purpose of this study was to determine if horses fed RBH for a 6-week period demonstrated more evidence of airway inflammation than horses fed square bale hay (SBH) of comparable quality.

Hypothesis - The respiratory health of horses fed RBH will not differ from horses fed SBH of comparable quality.

Animals – Two feeding groups of 15 healthy horses (mixed ages, breeds) from the University riding program.

Methods – This was a prospective study performed during fall of 2009. At the beginning and end of a 6- week feeding trial, horses were examined (physical, upper airway endoscopic) and samples (tracheal aspirate (TA), bronchoalveolar lavage (BAL)) collected for cytology and/or bacterial/fungal culture. Hay was analyzed for nutritional value and bacterial/fungal content.

Results – Horses fed RBH demonstrated an increase in pharyngeal lymphoid hyperplasia (p=0.0143) and percentage neutrophils (p=0.0078) in the TA samples post-feeding as compared to pre-feeding values. Nutritional analysis of hay and measurements of bacterial/fungal load did not differ over time and/or between hay types.

Conclusions and clinical importance – The identification of airway inflammation in the horses fed RBH indicates that factors associated with the manner in which the hay is fed and consumed contribute to the development of subclinical airway inflammation. RBH affords horses continuous daily exposure to hay and as horses bury their muzzles in the bale, exposure to particulate matter is likely increased. These factors may partially explain the response in horses fed RBH. Further studies are required to confirm these predictions.



botulism, farmer's lung disease, inflammatoroy airway disease, recurrent airway obstruction, airway neutrophilia, airway inflammation, tracheal aspirate fluid, bronchoalveolar lavage fluid, fungal growth, Round bale hay, square bale hay