Natural Solutions to Seasonal Allergies May 26 2020, 0 Comments

Allergies are a nuisance.  Allergies are persistent.  Allergies can’t be cured.

So, what can we do about allergies?  And yes, even horses get allergies, in reaction to much of the same irritants we do, unfortunately.

What are allergies?

Let’s start with a brief reminder of what allergies are.  Allergies are created by a substance that the body’s immune system detects incorrectly as a threat, and mounts a substantial attack on that threat, while producing lots of antibodies and releasing histamines and other substances.  The attack is designed to help your body protect itself, however, because the allergen isn’t a true threat, the attack tends to cause more harm than good.  

In horses, allergies are most commonly created by:

  1. Insect bites/saliva: The most common insect driven allergies are from Culicoides midges’ saliva (sweet itch, summer itch, summer eczema).  Other flies can sometimes create a similar reaction in horses too, creating severe itching and hair loss, and sometimes a crusty oozing rash that allows in secondary bacterial infections and other complications.
  2. Airborne irritants like pollen, mold, dust: Symptoms are very similar to human asthma- difficulty breathing, nasal discharge, coughing, lung sounds, elevated heart rate, and even weight loss. This reaction is commonly called heaves, or Recurrent Airway Obstruction (formerly Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease).
  3. Topicals and physical materials: Sometimes horses will develop hives in reaction to a particular material in a saddle pad or blanket, or to topical products like fly sprays, shampoos, and detanglers. Other potentially irritating items can also include bedding and plants.  Symptoms can include hives, itching, inflammation, and crusty skin.
  4. Food and medications: Horses are sometimes allergic to legumes such as alfalfa, beet pulp, buckwheat, oats and several other items. This can show up as digestive upset, hives, or dermatitis.


As far as allergies go, the old saying is true; an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.  If you can do anything and everything you can to help your horse avoid exposure to the irritants, the better chances you’ll have at preventing reactions.  The challenges of course in doing this are centered around identifying what the allergen is.  There are several options for testing; discuss with your veterinarian what the best options are in your area.  Solutions for preventing allergic reactions include using fly sheets and other fly covers, topical salves to protect from insect bites, wetting down hay and living areas to reduce dust and mold spores, and removing certain feeds/medications from the equine diet.

Not so Fast

While that all sounds fine and dandy, we know that the reality is that we can’t wrap our horses in bubble wrap; there’s no way to keep your horse 100% protected from insects, dust, mold, pollen, etc.  So what to do?  Are steroids and anti-histamines our only option?

There are several natural supplementation options available to horse owners to help manage and reduce allergy symptoms.  Recall that allergic reactions are marked by an over-responsive immune system and inflammation, so, unsurprisingly, treatments  generally fall into those  two categories.

  1. Anti-Inflammatories. Reducing inflammation will help tremendously with calming down the body’s allergic reaction and symptoms, including skin and lung irritation.  Potent, natural anti-inflammatories include:
    • Omega-3: Foods high in Omega-3 have been shown in clinical studies to reduce inflammation.  Ground Flax Seed, Flax Seed Oil, Camelina Oil and Chia seeds are good options for your horse.  While clinical trials focused on the use of Ground Flax Seed, Flax’s cousin, the Camelina plant, has an even higher dosage of Omega-3 per serving plus naturally occurring vitamin E which makes the product easier to administer and more shelf-stable.  Either add ground flax and/or Chia seed to your horse’s bucket or drizzle some Flax and/or Camelina oil on top of his feed.  Most horses enjoy the taste.
    • MSM: A common nutraceutical used in joint supplements, MSM has been shown to be a very effective anti-inflammatory.  MSM’s anti-inflammatory properties will block histamine receptivity in affected tissues, thereby reducing symptoms.  MSM is commonly sold in feed supply stores; you can top dress your horse’s feed with the powder.
  1. Immune Defense. Since allergies are a result of an over-reactive immune system, strengthening the immune system so that it can better identify what is a true threat is a good idea.
    • Adaptogenic Herbs. Adaptongenic herbs and substances include spirulina, ginseng, and turmeric.  These herbs are rich in minerals and vitamins and also have very strong anti-inflammatory properties.  Moreover, adaptogenic herbs can reverse the body’s reaction to stress- which is a powerful immunosuppressant- allowing the body to function longer and healthier.  Feeding these herbs to your horse will help strengthen his overall immune system so it can avoid over-reacting to irritants. You can often find these herbs in powdered form and can feed alongside other supplements.
    • Stinging Nettles. Nettles are immune-system supporting, as they target the health of the kidneys; one of the horse’s toxicity flushing organs.  Nettles also have some natural anti-histamine compounds, which can provide additional relief from allergy symptoms. Horses generally enjoy the taste of dried nettle; you can chop down a good amount of nettle, let it wilt for at least four hours, and then feed alongside hay.
    • Probiotics and Prebiotics. Horses’ digestive systems include tissue function that drives much for their immune response.  The healthier a horse’s digestive tract is, the less likely the immune system is to turn on itself. Probiotics are beneficial strains of bacteria in the digestive tract that reduce the presence of harmful bacteria and bolster the immune system.  However, in order for them to stay alive, they need enzymes- otherwise known as Prebiotics- as food.  Once you have bolstered your horse’s digestive system with probiotics, switch to a good source of prebiotics to keep your horse’s gut health flourishing.  There are many good products on the market available for horses today- top dress his feed with these supplements to help ameliorate symptoms.

Your best line of defense in any irritant is always to avoid it.  But if unavoidable, there are some good natural remedies available at your fingertips to help your horse get through his/her seasonal irritants!