A report from The Horse says veterinarians in Australia have constructed and tested a CPAP machine designed to help foals breathe better.

While it’s not yet commercially available, Australian veterinarians recently constructed and tested a CPAP, or continuous positive airway pressure, machine to help equine neonates breathe better. At the 2015 American Association of Equine Practitioners’ Convention, held Dec. 5-9 in Las Vegas, Rosemary McKean, BVetBio/BVSc (Hons. 1), described how she and colleagues created the system using a human sleep apnea mask. McKean is a veterinarian at Moorong Veterinary Clinic, in Wagga Wagga, New South Wales.

McKean explained that respiratory disease is common and potentially fatal in foals. Ventilators—machines designed to mechanically move breathable air into and out of the lungs—are available in some clinics, but many veterinarians in the field and even in smaller clinics don’t have access to such machines. Human doctors regularly use CPAP machines on their patients, but there’s little literature on their use in horses and other animals, she said.

Simply put, CPAP uses mild air pressure to keep the airways open. McKean said it can help prevent airway collapse, decrease breathing effort, increase oxygenation, reduce lung inflammation, and eliminate the risk of complications from intubation (which isn’t required with CPAP use). She said veterinarians might be able to use CPAP to treat foals with conditions such as respiratory failure, increased breathing effort, respiratory distress at birth, and more.

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