If the thought of sunny summer horseback riding is clouded by memories of bumps, hives, sores, itching, coughing, wheezing, runny eyes, and headshaking, take action now. If you wait for the symptoms to appear in your horse, you'll be in for a long, uphill battle for the duration of the allergy season.
An allergy is an exaggerated immune system reaction to something in the environment that normally shouldn't cause any detectable response.
Genetics do play a role, but family history doesn't automatically mean the horse is doomed to allergies. Respiratory allergies, for example, may develop following immune-system activation by a viral infection and persist long after the infection has been cleared. Nutritional factors may play a large role in determining how your horse can control allergic reactions.
Allergy testing can help identify triggering substances so that you can try to avoid them and help identify specific allergens that make it possible to do desensitization injections.
Horses have access to two types of testing, intradermal injections and blood antibody tests (RAST testing). False negatives and false positives can occur with both.
False negatives are most likely when testing is done during a time when symptoms are quiet, but strong allergies are still likely to be detected at this time and testing during an asymptomatic period can cut the number of false positives obtained.
False positives are most likely when testing is done while the horse is actively having problems. Reactions are generally considered false positives if they aren't consistently present, or disappear as symptoms quiet down, and are believed to arise because of the overly sensitive nature of the immune system during allergy attacks. It's still helpful to know the "false" positives, since avoiding those substances can help calm down the responses in general.
When allergy testing does identify the major allergic triggers, a series of densensitizing injections can be helpful. However, the process of testing, formulating the injections and the series itself is expensive, and should only be done by an expert in this field.
Put It To Use
• Consider allergy testing so that you can identify triggers.
• Consult with a veterinary allergy expert about the feasibility of desensitization injections.
• Maximize your horse's immune system with careful attention to essential fatty acids and key vitamins and minerals.
• Use Spirulina or plant-based antioxidant supplements for further control.
• Avoid stress and minimize exposure to allergens/irritants.
• Discuss with your veterinarian which drugs might be used if allergies get out of control.
Beware Immune-Support Supplements
Since allergy involves the immune system, it might seem like a good idea to give the horse a supplement designed for immune system "health." However, this could easily backfire. Immune-system supplements generally work by activating the immune system, but in allergy the problem is already related to overactivation.