How to avoid Travel Sickness

What is it?
Pleuropneumonia, or as it is commonly known as ‘travel sickness’,  is a build up of fluid in the lungs and pleura, as well as inflammation. The pleura is the space between the lungs and chest wall.

Horses develop pleuropneumonia from contamination of the lower respiratory tract, their lungs, with bacteria that normally occur in the upper respiratory tract, upper throat and nose.

When horses are transported over long distances they are confined with their head in an elevated position, which is higher than their normal standing position.

In this situation, gravity may force bacteria-laden mucus to move down into the lungs.  Also, transporting horses, even over relatively short distances, will put the horse under stress, which results in higher cortisole levels, which in turn results in a suppressed immune response.


Stress = Higher cortisol levels = Lower immune response

A suppressed immune system will result in a decrease in the number of specialised cells that are involved in clearing the lungs of contamination.


Other causes of Pleuropneumonia can include strenuous exercise, breathing in debris from an arena, track or dusty stables, starvation or viral respiratory infections.

Due to how debilitating and sometimes even fatal this disease can be, it is imperative that the horse is treated in early stages. Early signs of travel sickness can include:

  • Dull eye
  • Raised temperature
  • Coughing fits
  • Dehydration
  • Lack of interest in food
  • Discharge from the nostrils
  • Change in dropping consistency
  • Rapid breathing
  • Pawing the ground
  • Unwillingness to move around.

Preventing Travel Sickness

Research has demonstrated that short periods of head-lowering during confinement (30 minutes every 6 hours) were ineffective in preventing build-up of mucus and bacteria and that 8 to 12 hours was needed for clearance of accumulated fluid following 24 hours of stabling. This shows that the most significant potential for minimizing Pleuropneumonia would be to allow the horses head as much freedom as possible. This allows the horse to lower it’s head during the transport period. Research has also showed  that administering antibiotics prior to travelling does not prevent Travel Sickness. A few other precautionary measures that can help reduce the risk of Pleuropneumonia include:

  • Limiting strenuous exercise and other forms of stress before and after long transportation.
  • Allowing adequate feed and water intake at rest periods.
  • Placement of feed and water on the ground.
  • Not travelling horses with hay at head height, as this increases the dust inhaled during transit.
  • Twice daily temperature recording for the week following transport as an increase in temperature is one of the earliest signs of Pleuropneumonia.


If you think your horse is unwell, seek veterinary advice early – some people prefer to take a wait-and-see attitude with the hopes the horse will get better.

We have learned so much about how this disease develops, what type of bacteria are involved, and why it is so difficult to treat these horses if the disease becomes advanced.

It is difficult to treat once the disease has become advanced so early and appropriate treatment is the key to successful intervention. 🙂


May 29th, 2015 by