Normal horses can only breathe through their nose. The opening of the windpipe (the larynx) fits within a tube formed by the folds of the nasopharynx, the common opening of the two nasal passages, with the floor being the soft palate.
Usually, the epiglottis tip rests on top of the soft palate except during swallowing, and maintains this path of air flow. If the larynx is pulled rearward for any reason, then the soft palate becomes free and the horse mouth breathes for a moment. This dislocation causes a major impediment to air flow in exercising horses, and a choking, fluttering or gurgling sound is made and the performance is interrupted or pace is slowed.
There is some thought that this may be induced by stress as it tends to be seen in maximally exercising horses, such as racehorses. It may also happen when horses at speed open their mouths. In the so called Intermittent cases (IDDSP), the displacement just lasts for seconds. The horse slows down and swallows and that restores normal placement. But the slowdown results in the loss of the race.
When there is a major anatomic problem in the area, it can be a constant problem, and a much easier diagnosis.
There are a variety of treatment options, none of which work all the time. Surgical treatments include teflon augmentation of the epiglottis, laser or conventional surgery on the rear border of the soft palate, and even cutting of the sternothyroideus muscle in the neck, to allow the epiglottis to move forward. The tie forward surgical procedure claims a higher success rate of approximately 80%.
Other Diagnoses Considered
Treatments May Include
Prognosis & Relevant Factors
The prognosis is guarded for race horses that have the problem. Lesser levels of activity may not cause it and horses may tolerate it.
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