This is essentially a nervous disorder. The peculiarities in breathing by which it is accompanied are given rise to by a spasmodic contraction of the little circular muscular fibers of the bronchial tubes, which is brought about by an over stimulation of some part of the nervous system; generally, but not always, that which is in connection with the stomach. It affects horses and dogs, more particularly.
Causes. Many authorities say that an hereditary taint is a factor in the production of asthma; but it must be remembered that, while in a very few cases this may be a known predisposing cause, as it undoubtedly is among humans, that in by far the greater number of animals no influences of this kind can be discovered, because the personal peculiarities of the ancestry of animals is not generally known to their owners. All that can safely be said in this direction is, that the form of chest which is present in by far the greater number of the cases among animals, is one that is unusually round and shallow for the class of animal to which the patient belongs.
A celebrated author while speaking of asthma in horses has written, "I have no hesitation in asserting that the disorder is generally
due to improper food, more particularly to bad, musty, or coarse hay, . . . to a superabundant allowance of hay of any kind, with a deficient supply of grain."
To this may be added the habit of working horses too soon after feeding or watering them.
Again, there are horses with slow digestions, having an acid, pasty smelling breath, more or less hidebound, with an ill conditioned skin, and other evidences of indigestion, that certainly have a strong predisposition to asthma, upon a very slight application of the causes spoken of. The writer has known horses having the described form of chest to contract the disorder while at poor pasture, without grain, in a dry summer, which have become perfectly well again after a time of careful feeding and proper attention to the evidently bad condition of the digestive organs.
Symptoms. Asthma is characterized by a sudden attack of spasmodic breathing, which, as in all cases of heaves, consists of a fairly well performed aspiratory effort followed by a double expiratory movement, in which the belly is first pressed upward, a stop is made, and the effort finished by a slow and more or less difficult contraction of the ribs. At an early period in an attack of asthma, the expiration is at first of a "jerky" character, rather than a full exhibition of the "double breathing" above described; if, however, the attack continues, the effort made in breathing partakes of the same general character as that of the other two conditions named. In asthma the wheezing sound heard at the nostrils is more distinct than in the others, there is more exhaustion after exercise, with less cough, which is less suppressed and weak as in emphysema, and not so moist as that of chronic bronchitis. Oftentimes there is a sudden and unaccountable onset of the difficult breathing; again, the truly spasmodic nature will be shown by its coming on when the mind of the horse only, is excited by something unusual going on in the neighborhood of his stall, his body in the meantime being at rest. Unaccountable appearances, disappearances, and reappearances of the peculiar breathing are also marked features. If the spasm be severe the pulse will be small and frequent, and, if long continued, the surface of the body, which may have been cool at first, becomes sweaty in patches, owing to the exertion of breathing. An attack may last for a few days, or extend over several weeks or months, and then disappear or pass imperceptibly into emphysema, for which there is no cure.
Treatment. The diet should receive immediate attention, and must be such as is of a nourishing, and so far as possible, laxative nature, without bulk; or the desired laxative condition may be brought about, and perhaps, better be by having doses of carron oil mixed with the grain feed twice daily. Carron oil is made by mixing together equal quantities of raw linseed oil and lime water in a bottle,and shaking the mixture until it changes color and becomes so far emulsified that it will not separate; the dose is from four to eight ounces, which should be increased or diminished as occasion requires, the object being to always keep the bowels in a fairly active condition. The drugs from which a selection should be made are: bromide of potash, iodide of potash, belladonna, and lobelia (see dose table), sometimes one and sometimes another will be found to give the best results in the various cases.
In dogs the treatment will be about the same, excepting that sweet oil, or, better, cascara should be used to bring about the desired condition of the bowels.
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