All About Allergies

What are Allergies? 

An allergy is a “overreaction” from the immune system to a substance, which is referred to as an allergen. When a horse’s body sees an allergen as harmful, the immune response becomes hypersensitive. Allergic reactions are fairly common among horses and can be caused by a wide variety of substances, ranging from things they touch, inhale, or eat.

Equine allergies primarily affect the skin, such as itching or hives, and/or the respiratory system, such as coughing or nasal discharge. Allergies can happen in horses of any age or type, but it is common for allergies to not present themselves until later in life.

Common Triggers of Allergic Reactions:

  • Airborne agents such as dust, mold, and/or pollen
  • Insect bites
  • Products or chemicals applied to or touched by horses. This can vary from shampoos, fly sprays, or even your saddle pad or wraps can potentially trigger allergic skin reactions
  • Food allergies, while uncommon, horses can develop sensitivities to natural foods such as grasses or grains as well as additives in feeds or supplements
  • Medications, dewormers, and/or vaccines

While one or two allergens alone may cause a reaction, the more allergens a horse is exposed to the higher chance there is for a reaction to occur. Allergies are cumulative and a combination of allergens can reach a horse’s threshold that then causes outward signs to appear.

A horse may be exposed to a number of allergens without symptoms, but then is exposed to one more allergen which reaches their threshold and becomes symptomatic. It is important to remember that the latest allergen is likely not the sole reason for the horse to become symptomatic. In turn, removing or limiting a horse’s exposure to only one or two substances he is allergic to may also lead to improvement.

Clinical Signs Include: 

  • Heaves, labored breathing, coughing, and exercise intolerance
  • Itching, swelling, redness, and/or crusting at contact site
  • Hives (regional or body-wide)
  • Hair loss
  • Snotty nose
  • Watery eyes

Allergic reactions can range from gradual and mildly annoying to sudden and life-threatening.

Diagnosis and Treatment

Diagnosis of an allergy typically includes consideration of your horse’s age, where they live, season changes, changes in the horse’s diet/environment, and when/where symptoms occurred. A physical exam as well as further testing to rule out other concerns may take place. Once evidence pinpoints allergies as the culprit, specialized testing can be performed to confirm diagnosis and help develop a treatment plan.

The first line of treatment in most allergic conditions is to eliminate the cause or avoid contact with the allergen. Majority of allergies are not life-threatening and the key to keeping your horse comfortable is figuring out the cause and avoiding it. Use of corticosteroids may be necessary to reduce inflammation and help get the reaction under control. Antihistamines and “allergy shots” may also be effective in some cases.

Feeding a balanced diet with specific ingredients that promote healthy immune response and respiratory function can help keep the horse’s body prepared against allergens and seasonal outbreaks.

Ingredients that may Lend Support

Horses challenged with allergies may benefit from the addition of ingredients such as MSM, Spirulina, Citrus Bioflavonoids, N- Acetyl L-Cysteine (NAC), Vitamins C, A and K to support a natural inflammatory response, respiratory health and immune function.

MSM: (Methylsulfonylmethane) Assists body to produce its own internal antioxidants which helps support natural inflammatory response by providing protection against oxidative stress.

Spirulina: A powerful antioxidant that helps support the immune system and plays a significant role in supporting a natural inflammatory response. Has been shown to help support concerns associated with inflammation of the nasal passage triggered by allergens.

Citrus Bioflavonoids: Heseperidin, rutin, naringin, quercetin, all bioflavanoids important for soft tissue health and maintaining normal blood pressure, which aids in overall lung health. Helps support immune system health and capillary strength.

N-Acetyl L-Cysteine: NAC helps replenish glutathione levels, supporting a healthy inflammatory response in lung and bronchial tissue.

Vitamin C (Ascorbic Acid) is an antioxidant that plays a role in helping combat harmful free radicals. Vitamin C is an antioxidant that helps protect the tissues of the body.

Vitamin K: supports vascular health, healthy bones, cognitive function, immune system and respiratory health.