Research Foundation News

December 4, 2018

Asthma-suffering horses get help from Purdue respiration diagnostic tool

New equine technology could help racehorses and show ponies control asthma, inhale optimum levels of oxygen during training and performances.

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. – Hayley Jonkman, owner and rider of Love Bug, a show pony, thought her beloved equine’s show days were running out. Love Bug was demonstrating difficulty in breathing, chronic coughing and a marked decrease in performance in 2017.

At Purdue University’s Equine Sports Medicine Center, Love Bug received a diagnosis of acute equine asthma from Laurent Couëtil, director of both this center and Purdue’s Equine Research Programs.

“I got Love Bug as a present for my 12th birthday,” Jonkman said. “She ended up being a lot more work than normal birthday presents, but she is worth it. We complete in dressage, which is about the art of the horse and its movement.”

A month after treatment, Jonkman and Love Bug competed at a national competition. Learn more about their story here.

Love Bug benefited from the pulmonary function test, a new type of respiration diagnostic tool, developed by Couëtil and other researchers, that identifies the most acute and elusive complications affecting an equine athlete’s ability to give their best performance.

“Love Bug was really the perfect case to come here for our advanced respiratory testing and investigating while she was having the problem,” Couëtil said. “We were able to diagnose her with a mild form of horse asthma, and after the recommended treatment was implemented, her cough resolved within a week.”

The reports that the second-leading cause of an equine athlete’s poor performance is respiratory-related health conditions. Equine athletes require approximately 64 to 79 liters of air per second (compared to 4 in human athletes), and the slightest decline in intake can cause major problems in their performance.

“Many cases I see are suspected to have some condition related to respiratory disease or poor athletic performance, and the horses come here for further investigation,” said Couëtil. “Through collaboration with engineers on campus, we have established a new test that measures horses’ lung function and uses that information to further diagnose conditions in the horses.”

Couëtil began developing the Purdue-patented pulmonary function test after realizing the clinical need for a respiratory diagnosis system with assisted expiration (clinically referred to as “forced expiration”).

The assisted expiration system uses an air tank with positive air pressure to safely expand the equine’s lungs to full capacity. Then, a separate air tank with negative air pressure assists the horses with complete breath expiration from the lungs. This test is performed while the horse is sedated. The pulmonary function test also records, during this process, data about each patient’s lung capacity, expiration volume and expiration flow.

 “What is unique about our situation at Purdue is that we are using these tools both in the research and clinical arenas since we are a teaching hospital,” Couëtil said. “We are the only place in the world to use this new lung function test with assisted expiration.”

The pulmonary function test is a tool unique to Couëtil’s laboratory. Because it requires specialized equipment and skills, no private practitioners have commercialized the technology. However, Couëtil is exploring different variations on the diagnostic system, such as portability that might help private clinics’ utilize the technology.

Couëtil’s work was inspired by a similar Purdue respiration research test for canines (developed by former Purdue professor Frank Rosenthal). The canine respiratory tool placed anesthetized patients in a chamber and remotely controlled air pressure to induce exhalation. Due to that tool’s success, Couëtil said, he made it his mission to develop a commercially viable alternative for equine veterinarians that required only mild sedation.

Through a collaboration with a professor, Paul Sojka and graduate researchers Kul Inn and Andrew Read in the Purdue School of Mechanical Engineering, Couëtil was able to evolve the breathing bags into automated, pressurized air tanks.

The pulmonary function testing system aligns with Purdue's "Giant Leaps," celebrating the university’s global advancements made in health, space, artificial intelligence and sustainability as part of Purdue’s 150th anniversary. Those are the four themes of the yearlong celebration’s Ideas Festival, designed to showcase Purdue as an intellectual center solving real-world issues.

The technology is patented through Purdue’s Office of Technology Commercialization.

Purdue is expanding its equine health services through two new clinics. In 2017, the Centaur Equine Specialty Hospital, a premier performance horse veterinary hospital, opened in Shelbyville. In 2020, Purdue will open construction on its new Large Animal Hospital at the College of Veterinary Medicine in West Lafayette.

About Purdue Office of Technology Commercialization

The Purdue Office of Technology Commercialization operates one of the most comprehensive technology transfer programs among leading research universities in the U.S. Services provided by this office support the economic development initiatives of Purdue University and benefit the university's academic activities. The office is managed by the Purdue Research Foundation, which received the 2016 Innovation and Economic Prosperity Universities Award for Innovation from the Association of Public and Land-grant Universities. For more information about funding and investment opportunities in startups based on a Purdue innovation, contact the Purdue Foundry at For more information on licensing a Purdue innovation, contact the Office of Technology Commercialization at

Writer: Kelsey Henry,

Purdue Research Foundation Contact: Cynthia Sequin, 765-558-3340,

Sources: Laurent Couëtil,

Note to journalists: A video is available at

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