Treating Horse Allergies

My horses are on pasture with mix grasses for about 8 h/d and have recently shown signs of allergies, itchiness on forehead, cheek, mane, tail and chest. Will supplements and oils help? Thank you. Jonathon

Dear Jonathon,

Without knowing a few more facts, it’s hard to give you a definitive answer. For example, what part of the country do you live in? How long have your horses been on pasture this year? What else are you feeding them? What exactly are “signs of allergies, itchiness?” Is there also hair loss, redness or scabs and scurf? Depending on the number and severity of signs, you may want to schedule a visit with your veterinarian to diagnose the problem and get to an appropriate solution faster.

If their itchiness (pruritus) is related to insects, then yes, supplements and oils may help. The sixth edition of Nutrient Requirements of Horses, published in 2007, says:

“Supplementation of horses with recurrent seasonal pruritus (sweet itch) with large amounts of flaxseed (454g flaxseed/450kg BW) was associated with a significant decrease in the allergic skin response to Culicoides extract, suggesting a possible benefit of flaxseed in the management of horses with this skin condition.”

SmartShine® Ultra

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This resource has a whole section on the proven body-wide benefits of the anti-inflammatory omega 3 fatty acids that are found in flax seed, fish oil, and a few other sources. There is less conclusive evidence to support the use of garlic, vinegar, diatomaceous earth and other ingredients to deter insects from your horse, but many horse owners swear by these products.

[Ed. note: For more information about horse allergies, visit the SmartPak Health & Nutrition Library article on Allergies & Skin Health]

Lydia Gray, DVM MA, is the Staff Veterinarian for SmartPak. Prior to joining SmartPak, Dr. Gray served as the first-ever Director of Owner Education for the American Association of Equine Practitioners. She has authored numerous articles in publications such as The Horse, Horse Illustrated, Western Horseman and a variety of veterinary journals and magazines. Dr. Gray is also a frequent speaker at horse expos, veterinary conventions and other events. After graduating with honors from the University of Illinois College of Veterinary Medicine and receiving her Master's Degree in Interpersonal and Organizational Communication, she practiced at the Tremont Veterinary Clinic for several years. Dr. Gray is active in the American Veterinary Medical Association and Illinois State Veterinary Medical Association. She enjoys training and showing her Trakehner, Newman, in both combined driving and dressage, and is a USDF “L” Program Graduate (with distinction). Find Dr. Gray on Google+

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9 comments on “Treating Horse Allergies
  1. Mary Lepper says:

    My 8 year old mare has developed major allergies to hay, weeds, and bugs. She started out with small bumps, then it went to full blown hives. She is on a low dose of prednisone but I would like to get her off the drugs soon, as it has been almost 5 months now. I also have her on supplemental feed, no hay. Any suggestions would be helpful.
    Thank you.

    • Patti says:

      do allergy screening tests and then allergy shots.

    • Oriona says:

      I have a mare that was so itchy she rubbed her own skin off leaving bloody patches until I started her on 1 tabelspoon of vitamin C a day.(I know it is a lot for an animal who makes their own, but it was a loading dose.) After a week or two I backed her down to 1-2 teaspoons a day depending on if I saw the welts coming back or new raw patches. She is still on vitamin C every summer, but now I use Smart Bug-off to go with it. She is still a bit itchy, but no more than any other horse outside in the summer.

  2. Can the allergies be possibly associated with a change in hay or feed?

  3. Jenny says:

    I just started my newly adopted mare on SP’s SmartShine. She comes to me with itchies that seem to be sweet itch and worming (tail woes!). On the advice of my vet, we are Ivermectin weekly for 3 weeks, and she started daily CW dewormer. I have switched her feed from a low quality pellet to TC Complete. Already we are noticing a difference in a short time. She is 24/7 turnout, as she seems to be allergic to pine shavings in the barn as well. Anything to stay off the Rx. Can I safely add flax top dressed? Is is possible to over-oil? Thanks!

    • SmartPak SmartPak says:

      Thanks for your question! It shouldn’t be an issue to feed additional
      flax seed together with SmartShine. However, you might want to consider giving the SmartShine 2-4 weeks by itself, as it could make a noticeable difference on its own. Also, an alternative suggestion to feeding SmartShine plus more flax seed is to switch to SmartShine Ultra once you’ve used up your current supply of SmartShine. The “Ultra” version has fish oil in addition to flax seed, so it provides an excellent source DHA and EPA. These two specific Omega 3 fatty acids are known for their numerous health benefits, and are great at fighting inflammation.

      We hope this helps!

      SmartShine Ultra:
      http://www.smartpakequine.com/ProductClass.aspx?productClassId=6319

  4. Tammie says:

    I have an 11 yr old TWH gelding that suffers tremendously from the bug allergy each year. Believe me, there is nothing “sweet” about “sweet itch” allergies. I have tried everything, and each yr just when I think I have it licked, the next year is worse. He gets vinegar & garlic 2x a day, fly spray, bathed with medicated shampoo, veseline, corona, swat, lidocain what ever is handy on all of his numerous gastly bloody lessions from him biting and chewing on himself. He has hardly any mane left and has about rubbed the top of his tail off.
    Last year he had a relatively light year, with minimum issues after i started uses Histall as a antihistimine. I used to use Benedryl, but that gets expensive for a 1000# animal. This year, with the rain and humidity, he’s worse then ever!
    I have tried Bugoff, Horseshine, flax seed, Platinum Performance, Black oil Sunflower Seeds… Steroids dont work, and only make him act very studly.
    He wont keep a fly mask on for more then 5 minutes, muchless a coat or sheet. I am at my wits end. HELP!

    • Patti says:

      allergy tests and then allergy shots.

    • Oriona says:

      I have a mare that was so itchy she rubbed her own skin off leaving bloody patches until I started her on 1 tabelspoon of vitamin C a day.(I know it is a lot for an animal who makes their own, but it was a loading dose.) After a week or two I backed her down to 1-2 teaspoons a day depending on if I saw the welts coming back or new raw patches. She is still on vitamin C every summer, but now I use Smart Bug-off to go with it. She is still a bit itchy, but no more than any other horse outside in the summer.

      I talked to my vet before I started the Vit C and she said the only thing she knew of was steroids and they would probably only work for one summer and then I could sell her up north where they don’t have the same bugs.

      I have also had good luck with a flax/fish oil combo. I think Smart Shine Ultra has something similar.

      I focused on helping her get healthier and strengthening her immune system so her body could handle the reactions to the bug bites.

      All my horses get free range seaweed meal all year. If nothing else (and it does plenty of other good things) it helps them build a better coat as a defense against the bugs.

      I hope some of this helps you.

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