It’s that time of year again—time for the itching, the scratching, the bumps and the blisters, and the ultimate insult: insect irritation. Are we having fun yet?
If this sounds like spring and summer on your ranch, you’re not alone. Thin-skinned horses are usually the hardest hit; some poor souls might even experience swollen legs or coughing. Before long, many affected equines will be rubbing their necks and tails on fenceposts and stall doors, biting at their skin and setting the stage for secondary infections. And while they might not itch, ugly hives can be just as frustrating if they pop up often. Worse yet, these maladies can occur any time of year or even year ’round in more sensitive sorts.
While calling your vet for a corticosteroid shot can put a stop to the misery, it’s not the greatest long-term solution for recurring allergic reactions and what sometimes boils down to non-specific dermatitis (mystery skin inflammation). Corticosteroids like dexamethasone and prescription antihistamines are powerful and effective, it’s true; but they can also have undesirable side effects. Given regularly over time, some can even lead to a suppressed immune system, laminitis or liver damage. Clearly, these kinds of pharmaceutical solutions should be reserved for only the rarest of emergencies, not breakouts that occur several times a year (or more often).
Are blood tests and allergy shots the answer? Not necessarily. You see, equines are seldom sensitive to just one allergen. Indeed, their sensitivities and allergies can change and get worse as they age, much as they do in humans. This can make it difficult to diagnose which allergen is to blame at any given moment and then consistently eliminate all sources of that allergen from your horse’s environment. And let’s face it: allergies can last as long as the life of the horse. Do you want to subject your best buddy to testing and shots for years to come if there’s another route to relief?
A more comfortable long-term option might be to use a skin-savvy natural supplement designed to address dermatitis. Before you protest “But my horse’s feed and supplements already contain Omega 3s and 6s,” here’s the thing: While essential fatty acids can help reduce allergic reactions, they’re not always enough to combat or prevent the more severe reactions. You need a stronger weapon in your arsenal: a well-researched, quality product that works not only to relieve inflammation and itching, but to prevent severe reactions by supporting robust immune function.
Powerful ingredients to look for include: MSM (methylsulfonylmethane), a natural anti-inflammatory; Vitamin E, a well-known antioxidant; Quercetin, a natural antihistamine; Ground Stabilized Flaxseed, which can help reduce the response to common allergens; and rice bran, which acts as both as anti-inflammatory and an antioxidant. Hydrating ingredients such as hyaluronic acid (HA) would also be worthwhile for skin in distress.
Remember that each horse is an individual, and each individual will react differently to not only different allergens but different treatments. In the end, trial and error may be required to determine what works best. However, it’s up to you as a responsible horse owner to manage allergies in a way that is both effective and safe in the long run.