Horses can and do develop allergies, just like humans. An allergy is an imbalance of the immune system, resulting from reactions to grass and tree pollens, food, and molds contained in damp hay or straw. Equine allergies manifest either through the skin or the respiratory system.
Allergens can penetrate the body by direct contact, through breathing (as in airborne pollens), or by ingestion of food.
Allergic responses can severely impair a horse’s performance, cause discomfort and strange symptoms, and scare us as caretakers. A knee-jerk reaction may be to turn to steroids. The side effects of steroids (both long- and short-term) may encourage us to consider these alternatives instead.
The Chinese approach to treating to allergies is much more complex than the simple “give this drug to stop the reaction” that is used in western medicine. Allergies are perhaps one of the deepest imbalances of the immune system; consequently, they are quite difficult to treat. Patience is required and for many horses a complete cure is difficult, but long term maintenance and help is very possible.
Other horses can be truly cured. Chinese medicine looks at the individual animal’s pattern. Some animals are too warm internally and need to be balanced by using acupuncture or herbal medicine to cool them. Many allergic horses have some inflammation with heat. However, others, especially older horses, may be too cool inside and need to be warmed. Horses with skin allergies are the most difficult to treat and the least responsive to acupuncture alone. In mild cases with itchy skin for part of the warm season, regular acupuncture treatments can be helpful.
For horses with severe allergies, those who rub themselves raw for many months, Chinese herbs prescribed for their imbalance will be the most helpful. Acupuncture can be supportive. For some of the difficult cases, constitutionally prescribed homeopathic medicines work better than Chinese medicine. Respiratory allergies usually respond very well to acupuncture or Chinese herbal medicine or both.
The Chinese approach to coughing and difficult breathing makes much more sense than any other. Some coughs are wet, some are dry, some deep, some shallow. Ask what makes the cough better or worse. Then the acupuncturist or herbalist can select points or herbs that dry up the wet cough or moisten and soothe the dry cough. A weak cough indicates the Qi is deficient, so one would strengthen the Qi.
So, get with your Chinese medicine practitioner and begin the process. -- Joyce Harman DVM, MRCVS, Harmany Equine Clinic, Ltd., www.harmanyequine.com
Clinical studies support the use of: Myrtle Eucalyptus Spearmint Lemon Rosemary Sprays can be used around the neck, shoulder and flank area. Shake well before spraying. These oil-base recipes can be rubbed into the atlas/axis/poll area, on the front ankles to coronary band, along the withers, on the hind end hamstrings, and on the hind ankles to coronary bands:
Recipe #1: 8 oz. distilled water + 3 drops Myrtle + 2 drops Rosemary
Recipe #2: 16 oz distilled water + 2 drops Myrtle + 2 drops Eucalyptus + 3 drops lemon + 2 drops spearmint
Recipe # 3: 4 oz. grapeseed oil + 5 drops Myrtle + 2 drops Eucalyptus + 2 drops lemon --
Susan Holowchak, Chinese Medical Qigong, www.jewelsoflife.com
BODY WORK through GROOMING
Chinese medicine teaches a simplistic approach: clear the meridian AND physical pathways relating to the lungs and adjust the digestion to regulate and balance assimilation and elimination. Body grooming: move in slow, large counterclockwise circles right side, clockwise left side, breathing deeply in and out. Start at the base of the poll working down the length of the neck, through the shoulders, across the barrel, and slowly around the diaphragm and hip area. Spend extra time from the knees and hocks down. There are many powerful acupuncture and energy meridian points located in the lower legs and all around the coronary bands.
Meridians you will help:
• Front legs - large and small intestine, lung, pericardium, heart and triple heater (helps regulate the immune system)
• Hind legs - liver, kidney, spleen, and gall bladder Rub specific areas:
• eye orbits
• jaw line
• entire length of neck
• front of shoulders
• below the knees and around the ankles/feet
Release with the intention of opening and balancing with the rest of the body. Many points in the lower leg promote circulation into the hind end and lymphatic drainage. -- Susan Holowchak
Vertebral subluxations are common, often painless occurrences that stress your horse’s spine and nervous system and interfere with the proper flow of information through its body, causing a state of disease. Part of your horse’s body is especially intimate with his inner wisdom: his brain and spinal cord, and the millions of nerves that emerge from them. The nervous system touches every nook and cranny of the body and your horse’s innate wisdom uses this vast communication system to organize its billions of parts into a healthy, adapting, living being.
True health or adaptation can exist only when the innate intelligence can communicate without interference. A complete break in that communication results in death; a partial break results in a general deterioration of health – “dis-ease”. Eventually a “dis-eased” (asymptomatic) state turns into a “diseased” (symptomatic) condition.
Regular chiropractic adjustments ward off dis-ease, and contribute to the maintenance of the crucial communication system. -- Bill “Dr.O” Ormston, DVM, www.jubileeac.com
Spirulina is a variety of blue-green algae grown in fresh water. Spirulina is high in vitamins, minerals, protein, amino acids and omega 3 and 6 oils. Nutrient rich Spirulina was utilized as a food by the Aztecs in pre-colonial Mexico. Considered by many as a “whole food,” Spirulina is a powerful immuno-stimulant and anti-inflammatory with strong anti-allergy effects. It is ideal nutritional support for horses prone to allergic skin reactions. It enables the body to be less reactive to allergens and external irritants.
One-half to one tablespoon daily is the recommended amount. Huo ma ren (Fructus cannabis) is Chinese hemp seed. Chinese hemp seed is rich in oil, promoting hair growth while nourishing the skin. Huo ma ren is high in omega 3 and 6 oils, is anti-inflammatory and helps reduce itching. I recommend using a mix of fresh ground flax seed and/or wheat germ in addition to Huo ma ren. One-fourth to one-half cup of this mixture per day is ideal for supporting hair, hoof and skin. Da qing ye (Folium isatidis) means "big green leaf" in Chinese. We know the big green leaves of Da qing ye as indigo.
Over the centuries, indigo was highly prized a dye in Asia and Europe. From the TCM perspective, Da qing ye is a bitter and cold herb. As such, it clears heat (inflammation) and eliminates toxins (allergens). It is antimicrobial and anti-inflammatory. Da qing ye, like the supplement MSM, contains natural sulfur. Sulfur has a long history of use in skin remedies dating back to biblical times. Sulfur is often prescribed homeopathically for skin conditions as well.
Note of caution: Da qing ye should be used internally with caution. Horses with sulfur allergies or sulfonamide antibiotic sensitivities or deficient individuals prone to diarrhea or with weak digestive systems should avoid internal use completely.
I also recommend eliminating sweet and heat producing foods from the buckets of horses suffering from skin allergies. From the traditional Chinese medicine perspective, feeds containing molasses, sugar or corn create a condition of internal dampness and heat which aggravate itchy, inflamed skin. -- Gloria Garland, L.Ac., Dipl. Ac. & Ch, www.wholehorse.com
Common holistic cures for allergies include the feeding of burdock (yes those pesky burs that rat manes and tails) and red clover. For allergies that cause eczema, common herbs like comfrey, calendula and witch hazel may be used. Chamomile can also be used in a compress for skin that is itchy, red or raw. Horses with allergies often suffer gastrointestinal upset as a result, so diet should be closely monitored. Some recommend cleansing the horse’s system of toxins using herbs such as clivers, calendula, garlic or nettle.
But be sure your horse is not allergic to any of these treatments prior to implementing them. -- Karina Lewis, www.themirroreffect.com
Many horses have weak or over-reactive (allergic) immune systems. Flax seed or Hemp oil are excellent for improving the immune system, especially for the skin. Do not use ground flax unless it has been stabilized, but you can feed whole flax to horses. Feed 4-6 twice per day if your horse has skin problems. -- Joyce Harman
Additional Resources: A Modern Horse Herbal by Hilary Page Self
Complete Holistic Care and Healing for Horses by Mary L. Brennan, DVM
Simple bug bites, tick bites and stings respond well to homeopathic remedies. Bites and stings that feel better with a cold compress respond well to Ledum 30. Give 6-8 tabs once or twice a day for a few days. Itchy bites that feel better with warm water respond well to Rhus Tox 30, given on the same protocol. Bee stings that like cold compresses do well with Apis 30, and this also works well for hives. Tick bites often do well with Ledum. -- Joyce Harman
Applied topically, a solution of strong Da qing ye tea mixed with a few drops of tea tree oil is very effective in the treatment of fungal skin infections, fly bite allergies, weepy hives and scratches. -- Gloria Garland
Horses with mid-line dermatitis benefit from the flax and hemp, and also topically you can put salves such as Calendula or Open Wound salve which is made with the herb Chapparel. -- Joyce Harman
You can soothe irritated skin conditions by washing the area with an oatmeal-based soap or a soap that is free of any harsh chemicals like Sodium Laurel Sulfate or its cousins. Astringing products that contain witch hazel can be soothing and help to dry out bumps and weeping, oozing spots. If the skin is very raw, stay away from the astringents until the sores heal a bit.
NEED HELP WITH DIAGNOSIS?
While skin testing has not been particularly effective in diagnosing equine allergies, serological tests give superior levels of detection using whole blood samples without the trauma of intradermal testing. Your attending practitioner can help you determine the best approach in determining and treating your horse’s allergies.