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Preventing Runny Noses in Horses: Strategies for Health and Hygiene

Runny Nose in Horses: Causes, Signs, Diagnosis, Treatment, and Prevention

Horse owners and equine enthusiasts know that keeping their horses healthy and happy is a top priority. However, there are certain health concerns that can arise and affect horses at any point in their lives.

One of the most common problems is a runny nose, which can be caused by a range of factors. Knowing the symptoms, causes, and treatment options is essential to ensure your horse stays healthy, happy, and active.

Causes of Runny Nose

There are many causes of a runny nose in horses, ranging from minor irritation to serious infections. Some of the most common causes include:


    Strangles is a highly contagious infection that affects the respiratory system of horses. It causes fever, coughing, and heavy discharge from the nose and eyes.

    Sinus infection

    A sinus infection occurs when bacteria or viruses invade the sinus cavities in the head. This can cause inflammation, pain, and a runny nose.

    Tooth problems

    Dental health problems can lead to nasal discharge if the horse’s teeth become infected or impacted.

    Guttural pouch infection

    Guttural pouch infection is a bacterial infection that affects the guttural pouches in the horse’s head. It can cause secondary infections, which can lead to a runny nose.

    Energetic playfulness

    Horses that engage in energetic play, such as bucking and rearing, can cause nasal irritation or damage to the nasal lining that leads to a runny nose.

    Dust particles

    Dust particles in the barn or arena can irritate the nasal passageways of horses, leading to a runny nose.

    Environmental irritants

    Allergies to environmental irritants like pollen, mold, and dust can cause nasal discharge.

Signs of Seriousness

While a runny nose is a common occurrence in horses, there are some signs that it may be serious and require veterinary attention. Keep an eye out for the following symptoms:

    Bilateral discharge:

    Bilateral discharge refers to nasal discharge from both nostrils. It is often a sign of a more serious condition than discharge from one nostril.

    Lateral nasal discharges:

    Nasal discharge from one nostril may indicate a foreign body in that nostril.

    Thick and heavy nasal discharges:

    Thick, yellow or green, and heavy nasal discharges are often a sign of a bacterial or viral infection.

    Color and consistency of discharge:

    The color and consistency of the discharge can tell you a lot about what is causing it. Green or yellow discharge may indicate an infection, while clear or white discharge is more likely to be due to irritation.

    Blood from nose:

    This is always a sign that something is seriously wrong and should be checked by a veterinarian immediately.

Diagnosing and Treating Runny Nose in Horses


When it comes to diagnosing the cause of nasal discharge in horses, your veterinarian may carry out the following tests:

    Blood work:

    Blood tests can help to identify infections in the bloodstream and identify the horse’s overall health.


    A swab from the affected nostril can be sent to a lab to determine the type of bacteria or virus causing the problem.

    Endoscopic exams

    Endoscopy involves using a small camera to view the nasal passages and sinuses, allowing the veterinarian to identify the cause of the discharge.


    Radiographs can help to identify foreign bodies or tumors in the nasal passages.


Once your veterinarian has diagnosed the cause of the runny nose, they will recommend a specific treatment plan, which may include:

    Short-term and long-term antibiotics

    Antibiotics may be prescribed for bacterial infections, with short-term treatment of two weeks and long-term treatment of up to six months.


    Expectorants can help to loosen mucus and facilitate the clearing of the airways.

    Flushing sinuses

    Flushing the sinuses with saline can help remove debris and reduce inflammation.

    Tooth treatment

    Dental treatment may be necessary if a tooth problem is causing the discharge.


Preventing nasal discharge in horses involves taking a few simple steps to promote good respiratory health, including:

    Change bedding

    Horses should be kept in clean and sanitary conditions, with fresh bedding that is regularly changed.

    Dampen food

    Dampening hay and feed can help to reduce inhalation of dust particles.

    Water down arenas

    Wetting down arenas can help reduce dust particles in the air and prevent nasal irritation.

    Remove nose bags

    Nose bags can create a breeding ground for bacteria and mold, leading to respiratory problems.

    Practice good hygiene

    Frequent hand washing and sanitizing of equipment can reduce the risk of infection.


    Regular vaccination against diseases such as strangles can help protect horses from contracting respiratory infections.


    Good ventilation in stables and barns can help reduce the concentration of dust particles and irritants in the air.

In summary, a runny nose in horses can be caused by a variety of factors, from dust particles to serious infections. Identifying the cause of the discharge and treating it promptly is essential for the horse’s health and wellbeing.

Preventing nasal discharge through proper hygiene, diet, and care can help keep your horse healthy and active. As always, consult your veterinarian for guidance and treatment options if you suspect your horse is suffering from a runny nose.

Factors Contributing to Runny Nose in Horses

Horses are susceptible to many different conditions that can cause a runny nose. These can vary from mild irritants to serious infections.

Here are some of the most common factors contributing to a runny nose in horses:

    Exercise and Energetic play

    Horses that engage in heavy breathing during exercise or playful activity such as bucking and rearing, can cause sinus cleaning. This can sometimes lead to a runny nose as the sinuses are flushing out any irritants or bacteria that may be present.

    Environmental Allergens

    Environmental allergens like dust particles, pollen, and mold spores can cause a runny nose in horses. Dust particles are the most common culprit as barns and arenas can often be dusty environments. Pollen and mold spores are more seasonal offenders and may be present in the air, causing allergies in the horse.

    Dental Issues

    Dental issues can also contribute to a runny nose in horses. Infected teeth or tooth problems can cause drainage from the sinuses leading to discharge from the nostrils.


    Viral and bacterial infections such as Strangles and Guttural pouch infection are other significant causes of a runny nose in horses. These infections can be very serious and require prompt treatment from a veterinarian.

Symptoms and Treatment of Specific Runny Nose Causes

Sinus Infection

Signs of sinus infection include gray or frothy snot in the discharge, head-shaking, and excessive nose blowing.

In case of a sinus infection, veterinarians may run blood tests to check for bacterial or viral infections in the bloodstream. Endoscopy may also be performed to examine the horse’s nasal passages and sinuses.

Flushing of the sinuses is a common treatment for a sinus infection in horses. The veterinarian may use a saline solution to flush out the sinuses and remove any debris that may be present. Antibiotics may also be prescribed to combat any infection that may have caused the sinus infection.

Guttural Pouch Infection

Guttural pouch infections often manifest themselves through colored discharge from the nose, fever, and decreased appetite. They can be a serious cause for concern depending on the severity.

Endoscopy is an essential tool used by veterinarians in diagnosing guttural pouch infections. An endoscopic exam involves inserting a small camera through the horse’s nose to view the pouches and check for any signs of infection.

Expectorants might be prescribed to help liquefy the thickened mucus that may be present in the pouches. Antibiotics may also be prescribed to treat any bacterial infection.

Viral or Bacterial Infection

A viral or bacterial infection may present with thick and heavy discharge from the nose. The discharge may be grayish-yellow or green.

Horses with viral or bacterial infections often have a decreased appetite, feel lethargic, and may have a fever. Diagnosis may be made through a veterinarian culture and sensitivity examination of the discharge.

Antibiotics are a common treatment for viral or bacterial infections. Tooth treatment may also be necessary if the infection is caused by an infected tooth.

Good nutrition, water, and ventilation can help the horse’s immune system fight the infection.


Runny nose injuries may occur in the event of a trauma such as a blow to the head or injuries during training. In cases of injury, it is recommended to get veterinary care urgently as it could indicate more severe underlying issues.

Blood from the nose can be a symptom of injury. Imaging techniques such as radiographs may be used to investigate and guide treatment for burst capillaries.

Finally, regular check-ups with a veterinarian are essential to detect and treat any underlying causes of a runny nose in horses promptly. Taking care of the environment, good nutrition and hygiene can also help prevent a runny nose in horses.

If your horse shows any symptoms, always seek veterinary advice, promptly.

Prevention Strategies for Runny Nose in Horses

Preventing runny nose in horses requires a combination of environmental management, good health practices, and barn management. Here are some strategies that horse owners can put in place to minimize the risk of a runny nose in horses:

Barn Management

Effective barn management involves keeping the horse’s environment clean and sanitary. Dust and other irritants should be kept to a minimum, and the barn should be well-ventilated to ensure quality air circulation.

Proper ventilation also improves the air quality and regulates the temperature, reducing the risk of respiratory infections. Proper cleaning of equipment used on horses is important to avoid cross-contamination and minimize the risk of transmitting infections among horses.

Care should be taken to ensure that all equipment is disinfected, and a quarantine area is created for horses that exhibit signs of respiratory infections.

Environmental Factors

Environmental factors such as dust and pollen can cause allergies and respiratory infections in horses. Watering arenas and spraying them with a magnesium chloride solution is essential in reducing dust that can lead to respiratory problems in horses.

Dust-free feed and hay should always be provided to minimize the amount of dust the horse inhales. Nosebags, cloth wraps, or other accessories on horses’ heads should be removed if they’re left on for long periods of time to allow the horse to breathe more freely or use a different material.

Soaking hay can help to reduce dust and also minimize the risk of a choke.

Health Management

Horses should be provided with optimal nutritional diets and routine health care, including vaccinations, deworming, and dental checkups. Horses must also receive the appropriate vaccinations to prevent respiratory infections.

The vaccination can prevent infections such as Equine Influenza and Strangles.

Prevention is easier than cure, and ensuring that your horse is vaccinated against these infections is essential.

Practicing good hygiene also plays a crucial part in keeping horses healthy. It’s important to wash your hands, change your clothes and, if needed, scrub your boots clean after work with the horses.

Regular cleaning of stalls and manure should be done to reduce the risk of infection. Cleaning water and feed buckets regularly with warm, soapy water and disinfecting the horse’s water source with a non-toxic solution can also be done.


Preventing runny nose in horses requires a combination of good environmental management, health management, and barn management. Horse owners, trainers, and barn managers should work together to create a clean, healthy environment for horses, minimizing the risk of respiratory infections and allergies.

Proper care and management of horses will not only prevent runny noses but will also reduce the risk of other serious respiratory infections, ensuring that horses live happy, healthy lives. Regular check-ups with a veterinarian and timely treatment if necessary should be taken into consideration.

By following these prevention strategies, horse owners can ensure that their horses remain healthy, strong and active. In summary, a runny nose in horses can have various causes, including environmental irritants and infections.

Identifying the cause of nasal discharge and promptly starting treatment is essential to maintain the horse’s well-being. Preventing nasal discharge can be achieved through proper hygiene, regular veterinary check-ups, and barn and environmental management.

Always consult a veterinarian if you suspect your horse has a runny nose and follow their advice. By following the prevention strategies, horse owners can ensure their horses live healthy lives and reduce the risk of respiratory infections.


    Q: What can cause a runny nose in horses?

    A: A runny nose in horses can be caused by various factors, including infections, environmental irritants, dental issues, and exercise or playful activity.

    Q: What are signs that a runny nose may be serious?

    A: Signs that a runny nose may be serious include bilateral discharge, lateral nasal discharges, thick and heavy nasal discharges, colored and irregular consistency of discharge, and blood from the nose.

    Q: How can respiratory infections be prevented in horses?

    A: Respiratory infections in horses can be prevented through measures like proper hygiene practices, vaccination, nutritional care, good environmental management, and regular veterinary check-ups.

    Q: How can good hygiene practices prevent a runny nose in horses?

    A: Good hygiene practices in horses involve frequent hand washing, cleaning of stalls, water, and feed buckets, disinfecting water sources, disinfecting equipment, and following all infection prevention guidelines.

    Q: What are some barn management strategies to prevent a runny nose in horses?

    A: Barn management strategies to prevent a runny nose in horses include proper ventilation, cleaning quarantine area, and disinfecting equipment.

    Q: What steps can horse owners take to minimize environmental factors that may contribute to a runny nose?

    A: Horse owners can minimize environmental factors that may contribute to a runny nose by soaking hay, watering arenas to reduce dust, and removing accessories such as nose bags and cloth wraps.

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