Equine Allergies: Diagnosis and Treatment

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Many people get allergies in the spring. They cause us to rush to the pharmacy for medications and make us appear to have a cold for several months straight if we don’t. Did you know that horses can have allergies too? Keep reading to learn more about equine allergies and what you can do to relieve them!

Horse Allergies

The definition of an allergy is “an immune response to what’s generally a harmless substance.” This is why you can be allergic to peanut butter, for example. The peanuts aren’t out to get you. They are something harmless that your body just happens to take issue with. Horses can have similar reactions to various substances. Just like with humans, these may involve the skin and/or the respiratory tract and can occur at any age.  

Top Equine Allergens

  • Dust, mold, and pollen
  • Insect bites
  • Products and chemicals applied to horses (or that they touch)
  • Vaccines, drugs, plasma, or infusions
  • *Rarely are horses allergic to feed substances, but it has been documented

Knowing what your horse is allergic to is extremely important, and in some cases can be life saving. While many allergies fall into the category of mild and slightly annoying, some can be sudden and life threatening.

Signs of an Allergic Reaction

While humans usually display hives as a sign of an allergic reaction, horses can show multiple signs: 

  • Swelling, redness, and crusting/itching of the skin at the point of contact (“contact dermatitis”)
  • Hair Loss
  • Regional or body-wide hives
  • Labored breathing, coughing, and exercise intolerance in the case of respiratory allergies (like heaves or dust from mold).
  • Anaphylactic shock (severe cases)

Veterinarian Diagnosis

During an equine exam, your doctor will take several things into consideration when determining the cause of the allergic reaction. They will make note of the horse’s living quarters; the age of the horse; if the reaction could be due to the current time of year; and where the reaction occurs on the horse’s body. The doctor may also be interested in further allergy testing from skin or blood, or a lesion biopsy or microscopic exam.

Treatment and Prevention

The two main ways equine allergies are tackled are through avoidance (keeping the horse away from the allergen) and corticosteroids. Antihistamines and allergy shots may also be helpful.

Helpful Products To Keep Allergies at Bay

  • Fly masks and fly sheets (to keep skin irritants from coming into contact with your horse).
  • Medicated shampoo for bathing your horse 
  • Omega 3 fatty acids
  • Clean hay (to prevent dust and allergens)

Carolina Equine Hospital

Does your horse seem to be struggling with allergies? Wishing you could share your Claritin with him to help ease his discomfort? Give us a call at 336-349-4080 to set up an exam! We are open Monday through Friday from 8am-5pm and have an emergency doctor on call 24/7.