Does your horse have allergies?Horses are prone to allergic reactions just like humans are. Allergies in horses occur when the animals’ immune systems overreact to allergens in the environment. A pollen granule is not in and of itself harmful. Problems arise, however, when the horse’s body mistakenly construes it as a harmful agent—a germ that it needs to eradicate. In response, the horse’s immune system will release chemicals into the body that cause swelling of the horse’s tissues.

Horses and Allergies

Swelling of the throat can lead to wheezing or labored breathing. Swelling of the skin can lead to large hives that frequently form on a horse’s neck, chest, or shoulders. Skin swelling can also take the form of itchy horse pruritis or horse atopic dermatitis which is akin to eczema in humans. In some cases, a horse’s allergic reaction can lead to life-threatening anaphylaxis with plunging blood pressure, shock and even death.

An allergic reaction typically occurs shortly after contact with allergens but may take a few hours. Typical allergy triggers include:

1. Seasonal pollens. These include pollens from grasses—including Bermuda grass—which, ironically, is a common pasture grass for horses.

2. Insect bites. Culicoidesare tiny insects (sometimes called no-see-ums) that horses may react to with an itchy rash.

3. Dust and/or mold.

4. Contact allergens such as shampoos or sprays.

5. Food (though food allergies in horses are very rare).

Even if your horse’s allergies are short-lived, it’s worth having them looked at by an allergy veterinarian. Allergies in horses tend to recur and can even grow worse with increased exposure.

Horse allergy treatment is available through some prescription medications that address the symptoms of allergy. To go beyond just the symptoms and treat the underlying allergy, talk to your veterinarian about allergy immunotherapy available through allergy shots or sublingual immunotherapy (oral allergy drops for horses).