Skin And Respiratory Reactions in Horses
Allergies. Has there ever been a time when so many horses (and people!) are suffering from allergies? Horses often do suffer from allergies when their sensitive immune system overreacts to a variety of stimulus from the environment: anything they touch, ingest, inhale, or is injected into them can cause hypersensitivity and a bad reaction. My mare has always been skin sensitive meaning if she is at all under the weather, a skin problem may also occur. She is now battling laminitis and at the same time I have been treating a patch on her belly that insects were attacking. The cycle took a bad turn despite rigorous attention and one morning she walked in covered with hives all over her body. Not an inch was spared. Her belly was an open wound where she had scratched it raw, she was swollen, and hair was already rubbed off in patches. (I did consider the Cashel Belly Guard but wagered it would be destroyed or she would hurt herself wearing it in a minute.) I did get the hives under control with special baths and medication, although they have caused a hair loss that makes her look like a small pox victim. But it got me thinking. When I bemoaned her condition to friends, an outpouring of advice on how to treat allergies such as hives flooded my inbox. It appears horse allergies are now epidemic.
What is Causing the Perceived Increase in Allergic Horses?
As mentioned, horses can react to anything they touch, eat, inhale…you get the idea. Therefore, strange hay, mold, dust, any particulate, high pollen, new weeds in the pasture–anything can set off an allergic reaction. However, it seems to me lately here in the Mid Atlantic the number of horses suffering from respiratory problems and skin allergies such as hives has reached epic proportions. A majority of my horse owning friends admitted to keeping a bottle of Zyrtec (or the generic cetirizine) or Benedryl on hand for all manner of afflictions. My question is, What is going on? What has changed so much in the last few years that so many horses at least in my area are having tremendous allergy problems? I know in my immediate environment (meaning my farm and pastures) many trees are dying yet the clover in the grass has taken off like wildfire. Other invasive species of weed, insect, and such have made it their new home. Are horses now just unable to withstand the assault on their immune system? What, perhaps, has changed with horses and how they are managed? I don’t know the answers to these questions and was wondering if environmentalists, botanists, veterinarians, and other experts could weigh in with some theories.