Print this page

DOES YOUR HORSE HAVE ALLERGIES - Identify their symptoms

How do you know if your horse has an allergy?  
 As in humans horses can suffer from numerous allergies both in the stable and out at pasture. 

The diagnosis of the cause can be very challenging as the symptoms shown may easily be associated with other equine health issues such as infections or liver damage. 
To help you identify and understand some of the most common allergies and symptoms we have listed them below with some helpful hints to help you reduce some of the risks to your horse.

What is an allergy?
The horse's environment contains many allergens in dust, mould spores and some proteins in pastures.

A healthy horse's immune system makes proteins called antibodies which are used by the body to fight off these invading allergens, however when the this system is compromised or overreacts to a particular allergen, hypersensitivity or allergic reaction occurs.
Horses can show signs in many different ways, not only the obvious lump or bump but also with runny eyes, nasal discharge, rashes, coughing and itchy skin. Their whole demeanour may change and they may appear listless and lethargic. The visible signs are not always immediate, sometimes not showing until some 12 hours after the exposure to the allergen, further complicating diagnosis.  Most allergies are relatively minor however in extreme cases they can cause respiratory and even cardio vascular problems over a long term.

Skin Allergieshorse hives 
These are the most common allergies suffered by the horse and are often referred to as hives or urticaria (as shownopposite).They appear predominately around the neck and shoulder area however they may show anywhere.
These raised irregular shaped swellings may be a result of food allergens, insect bites or nettle rash.
In most instances this condition will disappear in a relative short time however if it persists and happens frequently, veterinary advice should be taken.

Respiratory Allergies
These can be paralleled with Asthma in humans, a tightness of breathe, hurried breathing (called heaves) and occasionally a dry persistent cough.

There are so many environmental allergens in the air indentifying the cause of the condition immediately is very hard however through a case of elimination the problem may be cured or at least become manageable.
Crop pollen, hay spores, horse bedding and poor stable management can all produce high levels of allergens therefore most horses will have to cope with some problem at some time.

Helpful hints to reduce the risk. 

Hay dust - always buy the best quality hay you can afford or soak each haynet before feeding.  
Bedding - Always muck out when the horse is outside, let the dust settle, then bring the horse back in. Possibly
lightly dampen the bedding.  Change bedding types, shavings, peat or rubber matting are some alternatives to try. 
Mould or Fungus - this problem will only occur by storing food stuffs or bedding incorrectly. Always allow air to
circulate and never leave products on a cold damp floor, store hay on pallets and do not allow it to overheat as the
dust content will increase rapidly.
Plants - certain plants in the pasture can cause allergies. Note poisonous plants article. 
Good stable management - clean the stable thoroughly using insecticides weekly, remove old food remains from
eating areas, clean buckets and mangers and generally be clean and tidy to eliminate dust heaps and insect breeding
Insects - Manage your horse's stable and field routine depending on weather, temperature and of course your
schedule. If necessary use repellents, fly sheets and masks, and if possible provide some shelter for the horse not
only for rain but more often for hot sun and biting flies

If symptoms persist or indeed worsen always seek professional advise from your vet. The sooner the diagnosis the sooner it will be resolved and the healthier your horse will be.