Allergy, Intolerance, or Irritation?

Horses experience a variety of situations related to plants, insects and chemicals that can be the source of discomfort or a variety of clinical symptoms.

These reactions can be broken down into several areas:

  • A feed or a food allergy is an abnormal immune system reaction, generally to a specific protein in a specific ingredient in the feed or the food.
    • This may result in what we call uticaria (welts), plaque, bumps or hives that we see on the skin. Sometimes called protein bumps, these are not a reaction to too much protein, but are a reaction to a very specific protein. (Equine Clinical Nutrition, Dr. Lon D. Lewis, Williams & Wilkins, 1995 p 20.)
    • This protein may come from a feed ingredient, but also may come from ingestion or inhalation of other material or something like insect bites.
    • One horse in a herd may develop an allergic reaction while other horses are not affected.  Identifying the specific allergen may require exclusion feeding or highly specific allergy testing.
    • In humans, the extreme example is something like a peanut allergy where a very small quantity can create a life threatening situation.
  • A feed or food intolerance is not the same as an allergy, although there may be some similar symptoms.
    • An individual is not able to properly digest a specific ingredient, which can result in digestive disturbances.
    • Human examples may include such things as lactose intolerance or gluten intolerance.  This has not been well identified in horses, but may be possible.
  • An irritation may be caused when the horse comes in contact with specific substances that cause tissue irritation.
    • A horse that is sensitive to the chemicals in a particular grooming product or fly spray may break out or experience skin irritation and loss of hair.
    • Insect bites may cause both an allergic response and a surface irritation.
    • Chemical irritants from plant, insect or synthetic sources may cause skin surface reactions.

Unusual skin symptoms or digestive disturbances may require careful observation (and sometimes a bit of luck) to determine the underlying cause.  It may be very useful to work with your veterinarian to determine the exact condition and search for potential causes.

4 thoughts on “Allergy, Intolerance, or Irritation?

  1. my horse has runney eyes is there any thing i could give him..my dog has etchy skin is there any thing i could give him i changed his food with no wheat in it but hasnt helped

    • Hello Darlene, For your horse, please consult with your veterinarian for advice specific to that situation.
      For your dog, wheat is only one possible culprit. You might also try a dog food with a higher fat level, or try a zinc supplement, or possibly an Omega 3 & 6 Fatty Acid supplement. Any of those things can help with dry skin.
      Thank you ~ Gina T.

  2. Hello, I have a Fjord gelding who has severe allergies to biting insects. He rubs his mane, tail and hair out during the summer. I’m trying to find out if there is a grain that may be more beneficial to the condition of his skin. I’m also adding flaxseed oil into his food. What is the best grain to feed him as far as his skin? He can get fat off of air so I can’t feed him much grain. If there is anything else you know of that may help that would be great. He has been to the vet for this and I really don’t want to start him on Prednisone injections if I don’t have to. Too many side effects with Prednisone. I’m hoping if I can get his skin in really good condition during the winter maybe it will not be as bad during the summer. Thanks

    • Hi Christina, Interesting question. You are on the right track with the flax, as Omega 3/6 will help reduce skin inflammation, and promote a healthy coat. I would, however, go to a product such as Empower Boost which does contain flax and rice bran for a healthy coat. Since your horse is an easy keeper a diet of Empower Balance, which is a vitamin mineral supplement, along with Empower Boost, the fat supplement should provide your horse’s daily caloric, as well as vitamin and mineral needs, not to mention pre and pro biotics which can also aid the immune system.

      In addition, finding a quality insect repellant that works for your horse, watching turnout times, and the omega 3/6 balance in the diet should help your horse. Thank you ~ Gayle R.

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