In addition to changing their hay and bedding, you may need to change your horse’s feed, as well. Some feed products are going to be dustier than others, and while there isn’t a good way to diagnose intestinal allergies in horses, there’s evidence that they can be sensitive to things like corn and barley.
“Horses are mostly allergic to proteins, so that’s what you look for: protein spores,” said Worth. “When you look in the diet, you zero in on the protein first. Your fats usually help keep the immune systems from firing.”
“There are certain horses that you can use fully pelleted feeds and take them off hay altogether,” added Furr. “There are some hypoallergenic feeds that have all the hay pressed into the grain. Dengi, for example, is cleaned and steamed and chopped short.”
In general, when a horse is diagnosed with an allergy, your vet will probably have you start them on corticosteroids to help slow down the immune systems reactivity. This sort of drug therapy can be short or long term depending on the severity of the allergy, but it’s not a cure.
“There can be problems associated with the steroids, but it varies with the type with how long they’re on it, and the dose,” said Furr. “The more powerful the steroid, the less you want to be on it. We want to use steroids that aren’t dangerously potent and can be safely managed on them, but that are effective. Laminitis is the big concern with corticosteroids.”
Horse owners have another option with allergy shots, but they aren’t used very often as they are expensive and a management issue.
“Most of our allergy problems are respiratory associated, and the allergy shots don’t seem to be as affective in managing the respiratory problems,” said Furr. “Sometimes it works OK, sometimes it doesn’t work at all. It’s hard to justify it too much.”
One of the best solutions to allergy issues is a simple addition to your feed program: flax seed.
“Flax is excellent for all types of allergies,” said Harman. “Flax contains Omega 3 fatty acids. We can get them from flax, hemp and from chia seeds. The Omega 3s are anti-inflammatory, so they help decrease inflammation; they help regulate the immune system. They strengthen the immune system, and they actually help balance the white blood cells and help improve the integrity of the cell walls. They are particularly effective in the skin, as it helps protect the skin from reacting to other allergens.”
In addition to its immune boosting properties, flax is very easy to incorporate into the diet. Thanks to modern advances, there’s no need to boil it anymore, and it is available in stabilized forms. However, it’s important to make sure the flax is naturally stabilized.
“If you grind flax, the Omega 3s will oxidize almost immediately. We take anti-oxidants to make ourselves live longer. If our supplement oxidizes, you have to use your anti-oxidants to digest it. You have to grind flax fresh and make sure you thoroughly clean your grinder after each use. You can also feed it whole or feed stabilized flax,” said Harman.
The Orange Effect
Vitamin C can help boost the immune system and provide allergy relief, as well.
“One of the great, inexpensive, successful regulators of the immune system is vitamin C,” said Harman. “The key with allergies is that the immune system has kind of gone haywire, so it’s overreacting to proteins or things in the environment that the normal horse would not. Vitamin C can help balance the immune system.”
Harman said that vitamin C is “so safe you can’t overdo it,” but that adding 3-5 grams to their diet is a smart addition to allergy prone horses. It’s important, however, to purchase pure forms of vitamin C, like ascorbic acid, as the filler used in buffered vitamin C could be allergenic as well.
Harman said homeopathic or natural therapies are often helpful with allergies, but people shouldn’t try these remedies without advice from a knowledgeable homeopathic veterinarian.
“There’s a million things out there that can be fed to help stabilize the immune system,” said Harman. “Allergies can be one of the most difficult things to treat. If you just open a book and try to throw a remedy at a horse, you may confuse his body even more. In western medicine we tend to run out of choices, so if they aren’t working we don’t have anywhere to go. The nice thing with the natural medicine, for things like allergies, is that we have a huge toolbox. If one thing isn’t working, there are many other choices.”
Read Part 1: You Don't Need A Ph.D. To Puzzle Out Protein
Read Part 2: Feeding A Hard Keeper Is All About Extra Calories And Patience
Read Part 3: Alfalfa Is More Helpful Friend Than Foe
Read Part 4: Prevent Ulcers By Mimicking Nature