A representative of each of 3 types of bronchodilators was given iv to horses with clinical signs of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. We used atropine (0.01 mg/kg of body weight) as an anticholinergic, isoproterenol HCl as a beta-adrenergic, and aminophylline, the soluble salt of theophylline, as a methylxanthine. Response to these drugs was evaluated by measuring maximal change in intrathoracic pressures (delta Ppl) and observing clinical signs. Atropine caused a significant (P less than 0.01) reduction in delta Ppl, compared with that caused by aminophylline. Atropine caused the delta Ppl to decrease an average of 83 +/- 15% toward normal. Clinical improvement was noticed in 87% of the cases. Maximal changes in pleural pressures were reduced by an average of 21 +/- 14 mm of Hg, with 27% returning completely to normal. Isoproterenol helped 77% of horses clinically, and caused delta Ppl to decrease an average of 68 +/- 31% toward normal. The average reduction in delta Ppl was 16 +/- 10 mm of Hg. Aminophylline helped alleviate clinical signs of 50% of the horses and caused delta Ppl to decrease an average of 41 +/- 36% toward normal. The average reduction in delta Ppl was 10 +/- 11 mm of Hg.