Horses and Hiccoughs

My Mum went to ride her horse today and as she brought him in from the field she noticed he was making a funny noise. It was a gasp, similar to the noise made by horses wind sucking. She couldn’t work it out, so groomed him and let him munch his haynet. He was still making this strange noise intermittently when she was tacking him up. So she led him to the school and he was still making these funny noises. They occurred every few minutes and he had a look of surprise on his face with each one.

Slightly anxious, and baffled, Mum took him to find the yard owner and ask her advice. She hadn’t mounted, and had waited for a while to see if the noises stopped. When she took him up to the house he stopped. Typical! So feeling like she was wasting time, Mum explained the situation to the yard owner and then suddenly her horse made the noise four times in quick succession!

He had hiccoughs!

Told there was nothing to worry about, Mum returned to the school and gave him a bit of a lunge as she was running out of time. The noises got quieter but still popped out every so often. After a steady lunge she took him back to the yard, untacked and fed him. By the time he’d finished his hard feed the hiccoughs had stopped – very strange!

So I’ve done my research, as I’d never come across hiccoughing horses before, and found that it’s quite rare, and usually triggered by strenuous exercise. It’s common in endurance horses or racehorses after a race. Hiccoughs are usually accompanied by muscle tremors over the body. As with humans, hiccoughs in horses are caused by a sudden contraction of the diaphragm, but with horses it sounds more like a cough than a human hiccough. This condition was called thumps in 1831 by a British veterinarian, and the name has stuck.

One of the underlying causes of thumps is an electrolyte imbalance, and horses with hiccoughs can have a fever or be dehydrated. Treatment is usually taking the horse to food and water and allowing them to rebalance their body fluids, and if they refuse water then the vet should be consulted. I also read that low calcium levels in the blood can cause hiccoughs, as well as stress being a factor. On hot and humid days electrolytes can be supplemented, and extra care taken to keep horses hydrated.

Mum’s horse hadn’t had a strenuous workout, or was it a particularly hot day, so we aren’t sure of the cause of his thumps, but it would be interesting if anyone has any experience of hiccoughs or if their horse is prone to them.

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