Roaring disease in horses

Posted in: Featured, Horse Care

Whether barrel racing, showing, working on the ranch or roping, all horses need an adequate supply of air when exercising in order to be healthy and excel in their sport. Roaring disease affects a small but significant number of horses and can greatly decrease an equine athlete’s air intake and damage their health. Here are the facts on this ailment.

What is “Roaring Disease”?

The proper name is “recurrent laryngeal hemiplegia.” This means that the nerve controlling cartilage on one side of the throat (almost always the left) is damaged. This allows the cartilage to hang down into the horse’s airway, resulting in poor athletic performance and producing a characteristic whistling or “roaring” sound during exercise.

Once a horse is diagnosed with Roaring disease by use of an endoscope, the case is graded by severity.

roaring disease

Photo Credit: ArizonaEquine.com

What causes Roaring Disease?

The affected cartilage is located in the horse’s throat latch area. Roaring can be caused by a direct trauma such as a sharp kick to the neck, or a misplaced injection. But, it is most often considered an inherited disorder. It is classified as idiopathic, meaning vets aren’t usually sure why some young horses are affected by it.

Which horses are most at risk?

Roaring is most common in thoroughbreds, and 3-5% of horses in that breed alone have the disease. It is also seen in standardbreds and horses of any other breed that stand greater than 17 hands. Non-race horses make up about 15-20% of the horses afflicted with the disease. Symptoms are usually noticed when horses are two or three years old.

Racehorses, as well as other equine athletes, can be affected by Roaring Disease.

What are the effects?

The dangling cartilage interferes with the horse’s ability to intake a normal amount of oxygen while exercising, resulting in fatigue or “exercise intolerance.” When performing in the hunt arena, a roaring horse will also receive a marked-down score.

What are the treatment options?

The traditional fix is a surgical procedure known as a laryngoplasty, aka “tie-back surgery.” In this surgery, the dangling piece of cartilage is literally tied back. This eliminates the roaring noise and ensures that the horse can receive adequate air while exerting its muscles during intense exercise.

Thanks to advances in equine medicine, horse owners now have more and better options. Eric Parente, an associate professor of surgery at the University of Pennsylvannia’s New Bolton Center, pioneered a joint-fusing procedure that increases the success rate of keeping the roaring horse’s airway open. In addition to putting in two sutures, Parente locates the cricoarytenoid joint, a small joint located between the two cartilages, and fuses it open. Getting the join in exactly the right position before fusion is critical.

Below, a horse undergoes surgery for roaring.

roaring disease surgery

What is the long-term prognosis?

With treatment, horses afflicted with Roaring Disease can return to athletic competition.

Posted in: Featured, Horse Care


About Jolyn Young

Jolyn Young lives on the O RO Ranch in northern Arizona with husband and their two small kids. To learn more, visit www.jolynyoung.com....

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