August 15, 2020 – Equine Allergies

When I first began this blog a few years ago, my primary goal was to share animal health and veterinary science information.

Lately I’ve been primarily addressing homeschooling topics.

I’m feeling the need to show some love to my animals again.

Right now it’s full-on summer. It’s hot, it’s humid in the south, and it’s dusty.

Many horses have allergies just like people do. This time of year is especially hard on them. They can experience any kind of symptoms from itching to coughing to difficulty breathing.

I’d like to focus on some environmental changes that can help the allergic horse be more comfortable and breathe easier.

Insect allergies are a big issue. When you go outside in the late evening, you may notice either gnats or mosquitoes or both. Horses can be severely affected by these little bugs.

Itchy ears can cause bleeding, hypersensitivity, and difficulty putting on a bridle or a halter.

They can also be itchy on their chest, in their mane, or the tail. When they scratch out hair, you need to address the root cause.

Dust and inhalation allergies can cause coughing, upper airway irritation and swelling, and increased respiratory rate. When a horse can’t take a good, deep breath, it will breathe more shallow and have to take more breaths than normal.

So how do we help?

First off, elimination of insects is a huge help. Fly sheets, leggings, and masks are all available to keep the insects off of your horse’s skin.

Fly spray is helpful but must be applied frequently. It will sweat off, and the rain will wash it off.

The best thing for small insects is a fan. My horses are under a fan for those mornings and evenings.

Now, for environmental allergies, we have to think about several things. Dust, grass seeds, pollen, urea, and shavings all rank up high on the list.

For grass seed allergies, you must keep the pastures clipped. If the grass doesn’t form seed heads, the horse can’t inhale them and have a reaction. The other option is to dry lot the horse. That means no pasture at all.

Horses still need forage, so if you keep them off of pasture, you must supplement with hay.

Hay can be an allergen itself. Historically we have wet the hay to keep the dust and seeds from being inhaled. Modern day methods involve steaming the hay. This is a bit safer and cleaner and can also remove the risk of leaving wet hay to mold.

Now for stall care. Horses can be allergic to shavings. My daughter’s filly promptly broke out in hives when we were out of town last summer. New shavings were the culprit. Now we bring our own shavings when we travel.

Urea buildup can be a significant respiratory problem for stalled horses. We don’t keep our horses stalled for more than 12 hours at a time. The stalls are cleaned daily, wet spots are cleaned, powder lime is put in the wet spots, and covered back over. Fresh shavings should be just enough to absorb the urine. Too many shavings can create extra dust.

As far as allergy medication, your veterinarian can recommend asthma masks with inhaled/aerosol used meds, things like Zyrtec, feed supplements like Equishield allergy powder, and much more.

Some horses get great results from allergy testing and allergy shots.

Be sure to consult with your veterinarian to rule out any other problems that may be contributing to an allergy issue. And please follow your vet’s advice concerning medications.

Horses are amazing and beautiful creatures. I’m so thankful to have them in our lives.

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