Recognizing and Treating Horse Allergies

Horse allergies can occur with just about any horse, young or old. These allergies can develop as time passes or be long term chronic problems. While many allergy symptoms appear in horses in a similar fashion as humans, some horse allergy symptoms will shown up differently. Properly treating horse allergies is important to the overall health and happiness of your horse.

An allergen is a specific environmental factor that causes an immune system response from the horse’s body. This allergen can be any number of things including substances that they come into contact with everyday. It is very possible for horse to develop allergies to dust, feed or hay. Like humans, horses can be allergic to certain foods, insect bites, fabrics, chemicals, molds and pollen. It is the overreaction of the horse’s immune system that triggers the allergy symptoms that we see. When the immune system chooses to attack a specific allergen, it causes the body to release histamine, which in turn creates the symptoms that affect the horse. These symptoms can be seasonal or yearly occurrences. Symptoms of horse allergies can include coughing, difficulty breathing, watery eyes, hives, fever, itchy skin, nasal discharge and an audible wheezing sound. Sweating can make these symptoms worse. Skin reactions on a horse will often present as hives or lumps under the skin around the neck and shoulders. A veterinarian should be consulted if respiratory distress occurs in horses, as this can be a life threatening problem. Sometimes allergy symptoms in horses are difficult to fully diagnose, but often when a horse is suffering from allergies a change in their typical behavior will be noted.

There are several forms of allergy treatments available for horses. Treatment will vary on the severity and type of allergy the horse has. Determining what specific allergy is affecting your horse can be difficult. A vet may be able to perform a test to determine the cause, but you may have to do some detective work to find out the cause. If the cause can be determined then it will be easier to remove the allergen from the horse’s environment. This may require that you develop specific feeding and grooming habits, or remove certain substances or chemicals from the horse’s living quarters. If this type of avoidance therapy, which is the most effective form of allergy treatment as it removes the problem all together, is not feasible, there are other treatment options available. Hyposensitization is one such option. Often referred to as allergy shots, this treatment involves determining the specific allergen and slowly subjecting the horse’s immune system to altered versions of it. These shots will gradually de-sensitize the horse’s body to the allergen, making the allergy symptoms lessen over time.

There are also several types of medications available to treat allergies in horses. Many come in oral doses that can be given directly or mixed in with the horse’s feed. Anti-histamines work to neutralize the effect of histamine within the horse’s body. These are generally effective treatments for allergies. Clenbuterol, often found in Ventipulmin syrup helps to treat respiratory distress in horses that may be caused by allergies. This medication is available by prescription. For severe allergy cases, steroid injections can help provide relief. These drugs are extremely powerful and their long term use is not recommended. Often these types of medications can have a rebound effect when their use is stopped or diminished, and long term negative health effects may also occur. Always consult with your horse’s vet about developing an appropriate allergy treatment program. By learning how to control your horse’s allergy symptoms, you will be able to fend off more serious problems like respiratory distress and allow your horse to live a happier and more comfortable life.




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