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Roaring in Horses

Can you explain partial vocal cord paralysis? Is a horse still rideable with it?

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I think what you may be referring to is also known as “roaring” or by its technical name “left recurrent laryngeal hemiplegia.” In basic terms, the nerve controlling the cartilage on the left side of the throat is damaged, allowing the cartilage to hang or droop into the airway. This results in poor athletic performance, a characteristic whistling or roaring sound during exercise, and even an unusual whinny. While roaring can be caused by direct trauma, a misplaced injection, or a toxic substance, it is generally considered an inherited disorder. Three to five percent of Thoroughbreds have laryngeal hemiplegia, which is also seen in Standardbreds and larger (greater than 17 hands) horses of any breed.

Hopefully your veterinarian has been involved in diagnosing this condition, which is confirmed through endoscopy (inserting a long, flexible tube with a camera through the nose into the airway). However, since the condition doesn’t always show up at rest, this may require “scoping” while the horse is exercised on a treadmill or by using a portable endoscope while riding or driving. Surgery is currently the only method of treatment, and while several alternatives exist, the laryngoplasty or “tie back” is considered the Gold Standard.

To answer your second question, the prognosis for a full return to the previous level of athletic performance is good, although there can be complications from the surgery such as a chronic cough, chronic aspiration (inhaling) of feed, infection, or failure of the sutures used to permanently tie back the cartilage. Researchers are exploring the use of electroacupuncture as a non-surgical treatment for roaring. In the meantime, antioxidants that specifically target respiratory tissue – such as vitamin C and N-acetyl cysteine may be helpful.

Lydia F. Gray, DVM, MA SmartPak Staff Veterinarian and Medical Director Dr. Lydia Gray has earned a Bachelor of Science in agriculture, a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine (DVM), and a Master of Arts focusing on interpersonal and organizational communication. After “retiring” from private practice, she put her experience and education to work as the American Association of Equine Practitioner’s first-ever Director of Owner Education. Dr. Gray continues to provide health and nutrition information to horse owners through her position at SmartPak, through publication in more than a dozen general and trade publications, and through presentations around the country. She is the very proud owner of a Trakehner named Newman that she actively competes with in dressage and combined driving. In addition to memberships in the USDF and USEF, Dr. Gray is also a member of the Illinois Dressage and Combined Training Association (IDCTA). She is a USDF “L” Program Graduate and is currently working on her Bronze Medal. Find Dr. Gray on Google+

Posted in Ask the Vet, Diseases and Conditions

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