Feeding & Barn Rules
Improper feed can cause the onset or
severely exacerbate allergic bronchitis.
- The most important thing is to provide a good quality hay
that is free of both mold and dust!!! Improperly baled or cured hay
is full of dust and mold spores.
- Feed the horse on the ground to prevent him from breathing in
allergens when eating.
- Pelleted feed is preferred since it contains less dust
- Feed the hay outside or provide pasture instead of hay.
- Never feed round bales. Round bales are full of mold spores.
Also, horses burrow into the round bale and inhale all of the dust
Ideally, horses with allergies should be kept outside with
access to a 3 sided shelter and never kept or brought into a
1 Minimize dust in the barn and clean regularly to reduce
mold exposure & ammonia buildup.
2 Do not keep hay in stalls or in lofts directly over
3 Do not bed with straw-it is likely to contain mold
4 Good ventilation is vital.
Allergies are a very common and
very frustrating problem for both horses and owners.
Hypersensitivity allergic reactions are primarily caused by
exposure to dust, molds, and other air pollutants. Allergies
in horses can manifest as respiratory disease or skin problems or a
combination of the two.
Allergens are anything in the
environment that evokes a hyperreactive immune response; examples
include mold in poorly made hay, dust in barns, grass, tree and
weed pollen in the air, or manmade chemicals such as fly
The most common response to
allergens in horses is allergic bronchitis, which eventually
progresses to a condition called COPD (Chronic Obstructive
Pulmonary Disease). This condition is commonly known as
"heaves". COPD is similar to asthma and emphysema in
In the early stages of allergic
bronchitis, the horse may have a clear to white nasal discharge,
mild exercise intolerance, and an intermittent cough. As the
condition progresses, you may see flared nostrils, labored
breathing and a frequent deep, non-productive cough.
Symptoms may be evident all year
round or may only be apparent when the specific allergens are at
their highest level. For grass pollens, this is primarily in the
spring, for weed pollen, mainly in late summer and fall, while
molds and dust become a bigger problem in the winter when horses
are stabled in tightly closed barns.
Skin problems can also be caused by
environmental allergies. The horse may be itchy, especially around
the face, ears, belly and legs. Other times a horse will develop
hives (round, quarter sized swellings) all over the body. Skin
allergies can be caused by biting insects, inhalant pollens,
bedding materials or synthetic products such as fly sprays or
The treatment for allergies
requires a combination of environmental management and medical
therapy. Environmental changes must be made in order to control the
horse's allergies. Whenever possible, you must remove the material
causing the allergic reaction. Environmental management includes
both feed & housing changes.
Medical therapy is divided into two
categories - alleviating symptoms vs. desensitizing the horse. You
can reduce the allergy symptoms with medications such as
antihistamines, steroids or bronchodilators. Antihistamines do not
give consistent results. Steroids have potential side effects and should
only be used on a short term basis. Bronchodilators are expensive
but can temporarily help the horse breathe better.
Allergy testing and desensitization
is generally the best method of treatment. A blood test is done to
determine what items the horse is allergic to. The test covers
grasses, weeds, trees, molds, insects & feed specific to the
After determining what
allergens are a problem , desensitization medicine is
formulated. Injections are given to slowly 'desensitize' the
horse to those things in the environment that are the problem.
At Countrycare Animal Complex, we
have been using this desensitization method for years with
successful results. Treatment works better when the problem is
addressed early (as allergic bronchitis) before COPD sets in.