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Allergies and Intolerances in Horses

Recently we have seen an increasing amount of horse owners concerned about the possibility their horse may have an allergy or intolerance to a certain feed/feed ingredient. If you notice unusual lumps and bumps, excitable behaviour, loose droppings or itchy/flaky skin, it may be a sign that you need to delve deeper into your horse’s diet. 




Allergies in Horses... 

Allergies within horses are very rare and can take rather long period of time to develop, this can be months or even years to become fully noticeable. However, horses can also develop allergies to ingredients which they were previously not allergic to 

Allergies are caused by an allergen passing through the horse's intestinal mucosal barrier and coming into contact with (triggering) the horse's immune system. Usually, the allergen which causes the food allergy is a response to a particular type of protein, the most common culprits are barley or wheat. Once the allergen is in the horse's immune system, antibodies called Immunoglobulin E (IgE) mistake the protein as detrimental and try to “fight off” the mistaken allergen. This results in the body creating several chemicals, including histamines, which can cause sneezing, itching and lumps on the skin (otherwise known as hives).  


Intolerances in Horses... 

Intolerances are much more common in horses and are different to allergies as they do not involve the horse’s immune system. However, horses with hyper-sensitive reactions (intolerances) can have the same symptoms as horses with allergies, but less severe.  



Does Your Horse Have an Allergy or Intolerance? 

Identifying a food allergy or intolerance within the horse can be difficult, as little research has been carried out to evaluate food allergies in equines. However, the most effective method to diagnosing an allergy or intolerance, is an elimination diet. This involves removing all feeds and supplements (except forage) from the horse's diet over a period of 4 to 6 weeks. If the horse's symptoms decrease or are completely eliminated, it will be clear that the cause of the allergy/intolerance is hard feed or supplement related rather than pasture or forage. Compound feeds or supplements can then be slowly introduced one at a time, week by week, until a symptom reoccurs - this would indicate that a type of protein within that particular feed which has been reintroduced could be causing an intolerance or allergy to the horse. 

Blood tests are usually suggested by veterinarians to pinpoint the allergen, however unfortunately these are not always reliable.  


How to Support Sensitive Horses... 

As horses with allergies can be more sensitive to insect bites and inhaled allergens (mould spores and pollen), it may be beneficial to feed a supplement which can help horses with challenged skin or sensitivity. Our EquiDermis supplement contains herbal remedies, including chamomileclivers and nettle to soothe the skin and encourage a glossy coatEquiDermis also contains omega-3 fatty acids in the form of micronized linseed, which is often recommended for horses prone to allergies because it can help to reduce swelling in cell membranes


Further Help for Your Horse... 

If you have any concerns and believe your horse may have an allergy or intolerance; we recommend consulting your veterinarian. 

If you have any queries about your horse’s diet, please contact our Nutritionists who are available seven days a week and would be delighted to help. Just call freephone 0800 585525 or email [email protected].