The groundhog was right about six more weeks of winter, but spring is just around the corner and with it all the plants, molds and insects that can spell allergy.
Studies in several species and different equine breeds have uncovered a genetic predisposition to develop allergies and even the involved genes but destiny does not have to be ruled by genes.
Allergy can be described as an unbalanced or exaggerated immune response to a normally encountered challenge. The body will be reacting to a specific protein, called the allergen, in pollen, mold or insect saliva. Seasonal allergies can involve the skin, eyes or respiratory tract with all the familiar signs. Allergy is even behind some cases of seasonal headshaking.
Multiple drugs are available to treat allergy signs, and very effective when needed but the most effective, corticosteroids, come with the risk of significant side effects. There is also much you can do nutritionally to support the immune system’s ability to function in a healthful way.
A balanced diet is the first step because the minerals most likely to be deficient or negatively affected by imbalances are also those involved in homeostatic inflammatory pathways (magnesium, iodine) or have considerable antioxidant functions (copper, zinc, selenium). Horses not on pasture have low levels of vitamin C and vitamin E as well as the critical omega-3 fatty acids which the immune system needs to maintain homeostasis. These nutrients put a strong foundation under the immune system, giving it the tools it needs to function properly.
When more support is needed there are many ways to boost the antioxidant capacity of the body including supplemental glutamine, N-acetyl cysteine, MSM, bioflavonoids (e.g. quercetin), Turmeric, Ginger root, Green Tea, White Pine extract, alpha-lipoic acid, Grape Seed and Skin meal, Gingko biloba, Boswellia and Jiaogulan. Gentle immune system support in the form of both pre and probiotics is indicated. Spirulina may be particularly useful as it supports the body’s normal beneficial antibody activity versus the antibodies of allergy.
Manifestations of skin allergy can be particularly distressing for your horse – or dog for that matter. These temporary irritations can be soothed by topical use of Aloe Vera, Chickweed, Chamomile, Calendula, Thyme, Arnica, Elderberry, Comfrey and White Willow bark.
For best results, start your seasonal allergy support program at least 30 days in advance of allergy season. This gives your horse’s body the best chance of functioning at its smoothest.
Eleanor Kellon, VMD