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If you own horses or spend a lot of time at the stables, you will be familiar with the smell of ammonia. It’s not unusual for you to catch a whiff of the smell while mucking out. It can be anything from a light, almost pleasant smell, to a strong chemical smell which can sting your eyes. Many horse owners ignore the smell and carry on as usual. But when the smell of ammonia can be so strong it irritates your eyes, should we be ignoring it?
What is ammonia?
Ammonia is a strong alkaline gas also known as a caustic gas. Ammonia is strong enough even at low concentrations to cause irritation to more vulnerable tissues. Those most affected are; the skin, respiratory system, eyes and sinuses. Usually effects are short term, but they can be long lasting and potentially life threatening.
Is ammonia in horse wee?
It is common belief that ammonia is found in horse urine and is therefore a natural bi product and should be harmless to horses. Unfortunately, this isn’t true. Ammonia is not found in horse urine. But there is urea.
Urea is a bi product of the horse breaking down protein in their diet. Some bacteria “feed” on urea and create ammonia in the process. Unfortunately, these bacteria are live on the ground and on most materials, such as stable floors. So when the horse wees on the floor, the bacteria “feed” on the urea, creating ammonia.
Why is ammonia a problem?
Horses as a species are quite susceptible to respiratory problems. How many of us have fed respiratory supplements, soaked hay and chosen dust free bedding to help protect our horses respiratory system? Ammonia can have just as much of a negative impact on our horses respiratory system as other factors, if not more.
How can you reduce ammonia in your stable?
Realistically, you will never be able to completely stop your horse coming into contact with ammonia. But there are a few things you can do to reduce the amount of ammonia in their stable.
Choose absorbent bedding
The more absorbent your bedding is, the better. Unfortunately there isn’t a bedding created what will absorb all of the wee your horse produces. But you should always choose the most absorbent bedding you can find. This is because the more absorbent the bedding, the less urine is going to seep under mats or into other surfaces the bacteria can feed off it, creating ammonia.
Regularly remove wet bedding
Removing wet bedding, removes the bacteria’s source of food. Therefore removing the source for creating ammonia. Deep littering can work, as long as the bed is deep and the wet areas are not disturbed, releasing the ammonia. But regularly removing the wet is better.
Rubber flooring with no gaps
You are now able to get rubber matting without gaps. This can be great for reducing ammonia as there are no gaps for the urine to seep into, so can be thoroughly cleaned regularly.
Trap the ammonia
You might have seen people putting powders down after mucking out. There are a few different ones available on the market, but typically all they do is cover up the smell of ammonia, not solving the problem. I was recently sent some Equi Fresh granules to review and have so far noticed a big difference in the smell of my stable! This is because it works by binding to the ammonia particles, stopping them from being released into the air.