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Equine Allergies: Is There Any Relief?

My horse suffers from severe allergies. She was covered with hives/edema from April through October last year. She was tested and is being given serum to, hopefully, desensitize her to the over 2 dozen airborne, insect, etc. allergies she has. Are there any vitamins, minerals, supplements, OTC anti-inflammatories, etc. I could try giving her to offer some relief in addition? — Thank you, Marianna

Dear Brenda,

How unfortunate for you and your horse! In addition to the hyposensitization injections that you’ve already started, there are a number of nutrients that may support your mare. Before you add any of them to her regimen though, be sure and speak with your veterinarian first. You wouldn’t want to derail her progress by inadvertently adding something that she’s allergic to!

The first nutrient that comes to mind is omega 3 fatty acids. There is quite a bit of research that shows adding this to the diet of horses improves the health and function of skin, especially in the case of allergies. You have the choice of plant-based omega 3s from a source like flax seed or marine-based omega 3s from a source like fish oil.

There are also several studies that recommend MSM as an anti-inflammatory, particularly for skin and respiratory conditions. MSM is well-known as an ingredient in many joint supplements because of its ability to reduce inflammation, but it also specifically targets tissues that line the respiratory tract and that make up skin.

I usually don’t specifically recommend products in this column, but I feel strongly that any horse with an allergic (overactive immune system) condition can benefit from the adaptogenic herbs in APF. These herbs have the ability to dial the immune and other systems back to normal, whether they’re too low or too high, which is the case with your horse.

Finally, make sure your mare is getting a complete and balanced diet, meeting or slightly exceeding the NRC requirements for protein, vitamins and minerals. Sometimes horses with chronic conditions are deficient in a key nutrient that makes all the difference in correct functioning of bodily systems. Just check the ingredient statement of any product you choose to see if it contains any of her known allergens first. We don’t want to make her any worse than she already is! I hope this year is better for you both.




Lydia F. Gray, DVM, MA SmartPak Staff Veterinarian and Medical Director Dr. Lydia Gray has earned a Bachelor of Science in agriculture, a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine (DVM), and a Master of Arts focusing on interpersonal and organizational communication. After “retiring” from private practice, she put her experience and education to work as the American Association of Equine Practitioner’s first-ever Director of Owner Education. Dr. Gray continues to provide health and nutrition information to horse owners through her position at SmartPak, through publication in more than a dozen general and trade publications, and through presentations around the country. She is the very proud owner of a Trakehner named Newman that she actively competes with in dressage and combined driving. In addition to memberships in the USDF and USEF, Dr. Gray is also a member of the Illinois Dressage and Combined Training Association (IDCTA). She is a USDF “L” Program Graduate and is currently working on her Bronze Medal. Find Dr. Gray on Google+

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8 comments on “Equine Allergies: Is There Any Relief?
  1. Erin McRae says:

    I had a similar episode with my 14 year-old TB a while back – though his started in November and lasted about 11 months. Corticosteriods worked, but my vet recommended taking him off of them because of the risks associated with long-term use of such medications. I believe that it was stress that caused the hives, though I will never know for sure. I will say that the APF was really helpful as I transitioned my horse to a more relaxing and structured facility (he thrives on routine.) It just took the edge off and helped him settle. I also found that accupressure would visibly reduce the hives during treatment, stimulated his immune system, and generally made him feel better. I wouldn’t have believed it until I saw it with my own eyes. It was really a wonderful addition to all the approaches we were taking to figure out what was going on with my horse. The hives finally resolved themselves in October of the following year, and “knock-on-wood,” we haven’t had them return in almost 2 years since. My guy is on a straight MSM supplement as well. I wish Dr. Gray had run this article about a year and a half ago!!

  2. Cherie says:

    FYI – The NRC requirements mentioned in the last paragraph of this article are contained in the National Research Council’s Nutrient Requirements of Horses publication. It’s available as free pdf download here –

  3. Amy says:

    My horse Kingboy has Sweet-Itch something terrible and for 2 yrs we used steroids and all kinds of sprays, salves and ointments. Nothing kept him from rubbing h8is skin raw and tearing out his main abd tailhead. This summer a friend of my daughter brought her horses to stay with us and one of them was on “Black-As-Knight”. I noticed that she had less flies around her then the other horses in the field so I decided to try it on Kingboy. Along with it I added a mixture of garlic and diatomateous earth to his food and I am happy to say that he still has a full tail and mane and only a few dry scabby spots on his belly and chest

  4. Peggy Gunter says:

    My gelding has been dealing with skin allergies since he was a youngster. In the summer he would chew himself raw. In the winter he would get dandruff and dry skin. What finally worked was flaxseed, fish oil and MSM. I have used several different products but SmartShine Ultra made the most noticeable improvement. His owner (me) also has chronic allergies. A similar diet has improved my situation, I am on much less medication.

  5. Becky Watson says:

    My 19 year old gelding has been battling allergies most of his life. He has had coughing problems in the past, but not lately. His major problem right now is that his eyelids are swollen. The vet gave me antibiotic cream, but doesn’t seem to be the answer. He is also jaundice. The vet is to be getting me liver supplements to help.. But no real answers… Is there any shots that can be given?

    • SmartPak SmartPak says:

      Hi Becky – Thank you for your question. Allergies can be frustrating, we encourage you to work with your veterinarian to identify what your horse is allergic to, then either remove that from his environment, diet, etc. or explore desensitization injections. Be prepared that your vet may refer you to a university or other specialty center for this kind of diagnostic workup. Best of luck!

  6. Barbara Cummings says:

    My 6 year old gelding started shaking his head vigorously about 2 months ago. He would do that in any situation, out in the pasture, tied up or under saddle, no difference. His teeth were recently done so that couldn’t be the reason, neither were there any gnats or other parasites in his ears. During a clinic I participated in, the clinician mentioned that she had seen this before and after the owner had spent a significant amount of money to diagnose the root cause, it turned out to be allergies. That horse was put on allergy medication and fared much better afterwards.
    I tend to be very careful with medication but have a good stock of different herbs at home for teas, etc. In accordance with information I got from a book about herbs for allergies, I started mixing 6 different herbs into his feed every morning. Hyssop, Thyme, Elder flower, Gingko, Feverfew and milk thistle powder. Only 0.25 teaspoons each. The head shaking was better a couple of days later and after a week it was completely gone. I’m so happy I tried that and my boy is in a much better mood now. He also had some bald spots that were concerning me and those have started filling in as well. The herbs are going to last for a long time.
    I know that symptoms and treatment of allergies are as individual as the horse but I wanted to share this because it worked for me. If anyone wants to know where I get my affordable but great quality herbs from, let me know and I will send you a link.

  7. Kim Johnson says:

    Inside Out by Cheval International works wonders for horses with allergies and Sweet Itch.

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