Does Your Horse Suffer from Summer Allergies?

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horse summer allergies

Unfortunately, all too many of us know how horrible hay fever can be. Constant sneezing, nasal congestion, sore eyes and a lack of sleep. The weather may be warmer but if that causes the pollen count to rise, then we know we can be in for a summer of misery. You might be interested to know that it isn’t just humans who are susceptible to seasonal allergies, our horses can suffer just as badly. We spoke to our horse health experts about summer allergies, their treatment and prevention.

Affected Areas

Allergies amongst horses mostly affect the skin and the respiratory system. Much like in humans it can often be puzzling trying to work out what’s caused them, so it is important to monitor any changes in lifestyle, diet and surroundings.

Summer Heaves

Similar to hay fever in people, Heaves is a recurrent obstructive airway disease associated with bronchoconstriction and airway obstruction, resulting in breathing difficulties, wheezing, coughing and weight loss.

How to Halt the Heaves

Heaves occurs after exposure to pasture during Spring and Summer, making grass pollen the likely culprit. Eliminate exposure to allergens. Change the horse’s environment (ie. a dust-free stable) and consider medication such as clenbuterol (a prescription decongestant), Salbutamol inhalers or steroids such as corticosteroids.

Insects Can Really Bug Your Horse

It isn’t just pollen however, insect bite hypersensitivity or sweet itch is the most commonly diagnosed allergy in horses. It results in intense itching and urticarial reactions. It may also result in secondary skin infections.

Treatment of Skin Allergies

Complete avoidance of allergen, such as flies, is often difficult. Manage your horse’s environment and turnout times. Look into midge gobblers, fly rugs, fly screens, fans and fly repellents. Other treatments include medicated shampoo, antihistamines and steroids to dampen down immune response.

Be Aware of Diet

You may assume allergies in the summer may either be related to Heaves or sweet itch but your horse could also be suffering a dietary allergy. This will require a food exclusion trial over a four to six week period. Box rest will also be required during this period.


Allergy Specific Immunotherapy may be used to treat some allergies. This is controlled exposure of your horse to the allergen (via injections) and allows the immune system to build up tolerance. For this treatment, the allergen must first be identified but some studies have shown improvement of clinical signs in 84% of cases.


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