How to Manage Equine Seasonal Allergies

Has your horse suddenly developed dry skin or a case of hives? Or does he sound like he’s having respiratory troubles? Just like people, a horse can suffer from allergies that often change with the seasons. Allergies are extremely common in horses and are largely linked to either the environment or nutrition. Even if your horse didn’t have allergies when he was young, that wouldn’t preclude him from developing sensitivities later in life. Here are a few ways to identify and manage equine seasonal allergies.

What are Equine Allergies?

Horses will display allergies when their body’s immune system has a hypersensitive reaction to a foreign substance or antigen, also called an allergen. There are different stimuli that could cause a horse to display allergies. These range from a plant or bug or various mold spores in the air. Horses can also have allergic reactions to vaccinations or certain ingredients in their feed.

What are the Symptoms of Equine Allergies?

When a horse has allergies, his body’s systems will react in a variety of ways, showing signs of allergy anywhere from a few minutes to a few hours after exposure.  The symptoms of equine allergies might include:


These range from small, soft bumps to large welts that are generally located across the shoulders, chest, and neck.


Often referred to as “summer eczema” or “sweet itch,” this is patches of itchy, dry, rash that may be caused by tiny (no-see-um) bug bites. If not treated, a secondary infection could occur from scratching.

Respiratory Distress

When a horse coughs, sneezes, or continually shakes its head, it is probably having difficulty breathing and allergies might be the culprit.


A sudden blood pressure drop and respiratory distress could cause your horse to go into shock and even die. This is the most extreme equine allergy reaction.

How Can My Horse Be Diagnosed?

Equine allergies can be difficult to diagnose because there are so many potential variables that could cause a reaction. Generally, the process of elimination is the best way to get to the root cause of the problem. First, look for patterns of lesions or rash on your horse’s body and then see what objects those areas are contacting regularly. Examine everything to see what you have changed recently such as shampoo, feed, bedding, and environment to determine possible causes.

There are also some diagnostic tools that can be employed to identify allergens. An intradermal skin test (IST) is the most commonly used allergen identifier. Another is called serum allergy testing (SAT). Both tests are difficult to interpret so should be administered by an experienced veterinarian.

Why a Horse Might Have Allergies

Some horses may be more predisposed to allergies due to genetics, but this hasn’t been proven. There are some reports that Thoroughbreds and Arabians have more allergy cases than other breeds. Most horses will develop allergies over time and only suffer from them seasonally. The warmer months generally present more trouble for horses because there is more mold in the air and more offending insects such as culicoides. Also, once a horse has an initial reaction to an allergen, however small, his body becomes sensitized to that allergen, and each subsequent exposure tends to produce a more severe response.

Treatment For Equine Seasonal Allergies

In some cases, treatment for allergies is as simple as getting rid of the allergen with a fly spray, shampoo, or feed ingredient. In others, it’s more complicated. If your horse has a severe reaction, a veterinarian may prescribe antihistamines or a short course of corticosteroids. If your horse has hives, he can also be treated with a cool bath using mild shampoo.

Allergies are just as miserable for horses as they are for humans. No one likes to think of their horse having uncontrollable itching or living in respiratory distress. If you suspect equine allergies, take these steps to eliminate the possible causes and then seek proper treatment to relieve symptoms and prevent a recurrence in the future. Your horse will thank you.


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