We in the animal world think it’s fun to display our allergies in fun ways designed to mystify our humans.  For instance, I myself suffer from allergies.  My allergies manifest themselves as itchy skin.  Luckily, I live at a veterinary clinic.  My minions do their best to manage my allergies, but I do my best to come up with ways to avoid their treatments.  Turns out cats and horses are similar in this way.

It’s not snot

Usually, horses don’t get the runny noses and itchy eyes you humans encounter.  Instead, they get itchy skin, diarrhea, and sometimes coughing and wheezing, but very rarely straight up snot.  Diarrhea is most often a food allergy.  Itchy skin can be caused by allergies to pretty much anything: food, oak trees, sawdust, gnats, the sky, sunshine.  Coughing and wheezing are more common with allergies to pollen and dust.

What are they allergic to?!?  

The best way to treat allergies is to avoid the thing you’re allergic to.  Right.  Because it’s easy to avoid bugs and pollen in Florida.  So what’s a cat to do? There are a couple of options.  One is to treat the horse for allergies to anything.  The other option is to identify what your horse is allergic to, then treat with a combination of allergy shots and avoidance.

Let’s talk about identifying what your horse is allergic to first.  Just like they do for humans, my Docs do what’s called intradermal allergy testing.  They take very small amounts of allergens, like oak pollen, and inject it under the skin.  Next, they wait a few hours to see how big a bump that allergen makes on the skin.  The bumps get ranked on size, and a custom allergy shot mix is made for your horse based on that.

The other option is the broad-based drug approach.  This is like you humans taking benadryl or Claritin.  Horses can take Claritin, too.  Okay, they do better on Zyrtec, but whatever.  These treatments are aimed at reducing the entire body’s allergic response, but, as you humans know, there can be side effects.  The most common side effect is drowsiness.  This side effect makes many of these drugs a big no-no for show horses.

Making life livable with allergies

Now that you know the options for treating allergies, let’s talk about real world management.

Allergy shots work really well for the coughing, wheezing horse.  However, they do take a while (as in a year) to kick in.  Allergy shots start with a low dose, then gradually increase over about 2-3 months.  These shots get the body to tone down its response to allergens.  This means less coughing and wheezing.

Cetirizine (the drug in Zyrtec) and dexamethasone are the most common drugs my doctors use.  Cetirizine is cheap and easy to give, but again, can’t be used if you have drug testing at your shows. Dexamethasone is even easier to give, and can be used if drug testing is performed.  Depending on your horse, farm, and situation, our Docs can help you design the plan that works best for you.

There is a new drug available to help allergic horses:  Apoquel.  This drug has been used in dogs with some pretty fabulous results.  My Docs are among the first in the country to use this drug on itchy and wheezy horses.  I hear the result have been spectacular.

Avoiding Allergies

Okay, so let’s just agree that this is not a possibility for most allergens.  The only one it is sort of, kind of possible for is gnats.  This is done by covering your horse with fly sheets and masks from head to toe, dousing them in fly spray, IBH salve (ask my humans, they have it at the Clinic), and keeping them in front of fans at sunrise and sunset.

Need help in the eternal battle against allergies?  Call my humans.  They don’t just treat allergic horses, they own allergic horses.

Until next week,


Tuesdays with Tony is the official blog of Tony the Clinic Cat at Springhill Equine Veterinary Clinic in Newberry, Florida. If you liked this blog, please subscribe below, and share it with your friends on social media! For more information, please call us at (352) 472-1620, visit our website at SpringhillEquine.com, or follow us on Facebook!