Home PageAmmonia: a risky odor in your horse’s urine

Ammonia: A Risky Odor in Your Horse’s Urine

By Jessica-Lee Bessemer, Freelance Writer

You all know it! It’s that awful, potent, smell that makes you stop in your tracks as you enter the barn! Some days it’s not so bad, but yet there are those days it becomes unbearable!

That smell that’s seeping through your nostrils and making your eyes water is ammonia from the horse’s urine! You have the choice of stepping outside until the barn “gets rid of it,” however did you ever stop and think what it’s doing to your horse’s health?   He/she is stuck in that stall having the same reaction you are, and you bet their nostrils are burning and their eyes are watering as well!  The ammonia affects their respitorysystem, which in turn alters their performance and overall health.

Horses inhaling ammonia on a daily basis may experience inflammation and constriction (narrowing) of their airways and develop mucus accumulation.  Horses with ammonia-induced airway disease have decreased stamina and tend to cough during exercise.

In time, affected horses have difficulty breathing even when at rest, and in severe cases, horses lose weight because of the difficulty of trying to breathe. [1]

Where does ammonia come from?

Ammonia comes from urea, which is a nitrogen-containing molecule present in urine and feces. Many studies have found that ammonia levels are highest near barn and stall floors. Since horses frequently eat off the floor, have their heads down, and/or lie down, they can be exposed to high levels of ammonia.

Eileen Fabian Wheeler, MS, PhD, professor of air quality at Pennsylvania State University, states that if you can smell ammonia, it’s already above the recommended threshold for good air quality. [2]

What can you do?

Wheeler states that proper ventilation and airflow are needed in barns to get rid of ammonia. Even during winter, barns should never be closed-up. Proper structures have holes in them, which allows air to circulate year-round. Wheeler also notes that fans can also be used to assist with proper air circulation.

Management is the other main ingredient for ammonia control. Cleaning stalls daily will control the amount of ammonia production in the stalls andstalls should contain drains to allow the urine to exit. Wheeler also notes that one study revealed that wheat straw reduced ammonia in the air more than bedding with wood shavings or straw pellets. It’s also important to bed stalls extra in areas you know your horse soils more.

A study done by the University of Kentucky in 2000 indicated that despite daily stall management, high ammonia levels were still located near the floor in stall, therefore it’s important to treat the stalls with ammonia-absorbing compounds. These compounds work to neutralize the ammonia and should be mixed with clean bedding.

Also, remember to always remove your horses when cleaning their stalls to avoid as much exposure to the ammonia as possible. [2] [1] “Ammonia and Respitory Health,” by Stacey OKE, DVM – The Horse.com Digital Editor – Sept 22, 10

[2] “Ammonia: Out of My Barn,” by Nancy S. Loving, DVM – The Horse.com – Oct 1, 10

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