An allergy is an exaggerated immune system reaction to something in the environment that normally shouldn’t cause any detectable response. Allergy testing by your vet can help identify triggering substances and may lead to desensitization injections.
The immune system has cells that both initiate inflammatory/allergic-type reactions and cells that keep those reactions in check. Unfortunately, many of the nutrients that are critical to maintenance of good anti-inflammatory responses are commonly deficient in equine diets.
You can adjust your horse’s diet so that the fat intake helps him keep allergic reactions under control:
• Horses need both omega-6 and omega-3 acids, but the allergic horse can benefit from specific supplementation with the omega-3s.
• Supplement horses on that are not on pasture, either hay alone or hay plus grain diet, with a minimum of 4 to 6 oz. of ground stablized flaxseed to provide omega-6 and omega-3 fatty-acids in a ratio found in fresh grass. Feeding larger amounts may help with allergic skin lesions.
Key minerals to feed include:
• Magnesium: Anti-inflammatory and antispasmodic.
• The trace minerals copper, zinc, manganese and selenium are critical to maintenance of good antioxidant/anti-inflammatory systems.
• Vitamin E. Supplement vitamin E, at least 1200 IU/day for horses not in work, 2000 IU/day for horses being worked or that are fighting allergy symptoms.
• B vitamins. Flaxseed will provide fairly good basic levels of B vitamins, but consider boosting biotin intake as well.
• Spirulina. This is excellent at allergy-symptom control.
Relieve symptoms by:
• Runny Eyes: Red, irritating and tearing eyes are a common allergic problem in horses. Most cases are caused by insect irritation/sensitivity. Your best defense against this is simple — a well-fitted fly mask. You can also use Clear Eyes from Farnam (http://www.farnamhorse.com/, 800-234-2269) to flush the eyes.
• Skin Problems: Most seasonal skin problems are related to insect hypersensitivities. Permethrin-based chemical repellents are the most effective across the board, but reactions can develop to these products. Use fly sheets and allow the horse free access to shelter to escape the pests.
Use a topical ointment (see box) to provide relief locally to especially itchy areas. Thicker products help create a barrier effect, especially if the allergy is due to bugs or plants. Shampoo with a gentle product, like Lucky Braids (http://www.luckybraids.com/, 781-665-5988).