6th September 2022

How housing can help prevent pneumonia in foals

Foals are at their most vulnerable to pneumonia from birth to six months old. Keeping foals
in a clean, dust-free and well-ventilated environment, when they are stabled during this time,
can help reduce the risk of respiratory disease giving them the best possible start in life.

How pneumonia affects foals

Pneumonia is a respiratory disease, usually caused by a bacterial or viral infection, which
causes the tissue in the lungs to swell. The typical signs of pneumonia in foals include:
 Runny nose
 Fever
 Cough

Research suggests that having pneumonia as a foal impacts fitness later in life, with one
study finding that 25% of thoroughbred racehorses which had pneumonia as a foal had
fewer starts and shorter racing careers than those which had never had the disease1.
Although it can be treated with antibiotics, prevention of disease is always best to avoid
animals suffering. Furthermore, use of antibiotics is threatened by growing resistance issues,
so taking every opportunity to set the foals’ environment up to reduce the risk of pneumonia
is a no-brainer.

1 https://thehorse.com/114983/foal-pneumonia-beyond-the-basics/

Fresh air in foal barns

A well-ventilated foal barn has air moving in, circulating the area once and moving out, so
the foals are not rebreathing stale air. Air should be coming in from above foal height, as a
direct draught will chill a foal and weaken its ability to fight infections leading to young
animals being more vulnerable to all types of infectious disease, as well as pneumonia.

Fans can ensure air is continuously moving, but by simply pushing air around, foals are put
at risk of inhaling airborne viruses or bacteria which are circulating around the barn. Positive
pressure tube ventilation systems can provide a steady flow of fresh air which is brought in
from outside, circulates once then leaves via an outlet.

Dust-free environments for foals

Dust can aggravate respiratory health problems like pneumonia, as well as causing issues
by irritating the airways.
Equine housing is notoriously dusty, but there are ways to minimise exposure to dust.
Having the optimum number of air exchanges, which is dependent on the size of the building
and the number and age of foals and horses housed inside, can help to reduce the dust
burden. The air exchange rate refers to how long it takes for the inside air to be completely
replaced by fresh air from outside. Galebreaker’s positive pressure tube ventilation systems
can be designed to create the optimum number of air exchanges in equine housing.

As well as optimising ventilation systems, dust burdens can be limited through management
of equine housing:

 Bedding choice has an impact. Shavings are often less dusty than straw, while
quality of straw varies too
 Feeding hay from hay racks increases the amount of dust in the breathing zone,
compared to spreading it on the floor
 Storing hay a good distance from the horse stalls reduces a constant supply of dust
coming from the hay
 Turning horses out while cleaning out prevents them being exposed to almost 16
times higher dust levels in the air than normal2.

2 https://www.extension.purdue.edu/extmedia/id/id-444-w.pdf

Allow foals plenty of space

Overcrowding puts foals at increased risk of becoming ill with pneumonia, as it makes it
easier for airborne bacteria and viruses to be transmitted between animals.
In facilities where there are several foals being reared together, it is essential to have the
space to isolate a foal if it gets pneumonia to help prevent the spread of disease to others.
A spacious, clean, well-ventilated environment is essential to rear foals with good respiratory
health. To find out more about equine housing solutions, contact the Galebreaker team .