Four Most Common Signs of Allergies in Horses

Just like humans, horses suffer from allergies, and the signs are easier to decipher than you might think.

Look out for these symptoms to recognize if your horse might be suffering from an allergy:


Hives don’t seem to be as itchy for horses as they are for humans. They usually come in the form of swollen areas that indent under finger pressure. They start small, but tend to grow larger. The shoulders, neck, and chest seem to be the most common areas for hives. Most common causes seem to be:

❖ A new shampoo product ❖ Drugs ❖ Pollen ❖ Mould ❖ Insect bites ❖ Skin ointments

Hives usually go away after a day or two. The best thing to do is identify the source of the hives and eliminate it, though it can’t always be found quickly. In the meantime, your veterinarian will likely prescribe fast-acting corticosteroids. If your horse’s situation appears life-threatening, the vet might suggest epinephrine. These medicines are injected so it’s important to follow doctor’s instructions to administer them.


Anaphylaxis is rarer and usually the result of something to which your horse has developed hypersensitivity (e.g. vaccines, insect bites, medicines or certain foods). Anaphylactic shock occurs when a horse’s blood pressure drops sharply and the animal struggles to breathe as a result. If it is not reversed within 15 minutes, it could kill the horse. If you suspect that your animal is having an anaphylactic reaction, contact the veterinarian immediately! S/he will likely administer a dose of epinephrine and dexamethasone to raise the blood pressure and reopen the airways by reducing swelling.

Respiratory Issues

Respiratory issues often result from a horse inhaling something to which it’s very sensitive (pollen, ammonia, dust, mites, and fungi). It can also be caused by prolonged exposure to cold air, lung hemorrhaging during exercise, medication, air bubbles, and blood clots in the lungs. Symptoms include coughing, nose bleeding, abnormal or laboured breathing (especially when resting). In the case of respiratory issues, your veterinarian may prescribe antibiotics, antioxidants, anti-inflammatories, and/or bronchodilators. Some are administered orally, some by injection, and others can be mixed into their food.


Pruritis is an allergic reaction to insect bites. Culicodes (tiny midges that are not easily seen) are often the cause. They bite on the neck, dock, or around the belly. Unlike hives, pruritus presents itself as an oozing, crusty rash that is very itchy. If horses scratch continuously, the infection can worsen, and your horse may act aggressively and/or feel agitated. The most common treatments veterinarians prescribe are antihistamines, topical creams, glucocorticoids, and/or essential fatty acids. Fatty acids can be mixed into your horse’s food and some topical creams come in the form of shampoos.

Southern Equine Distributing has the right feed for your riding companion, with supplements recommended for every breed and allergic tendencies. Call (905) 691-5141 for inquiries.

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