Don’t let un­sightly bumps or un­com­fort­able itch­ing cause down­time.

Dressage Today - - Content - By Ly­dia Gray, DVM, MA

Ad­dress­ing Hives in the Per­for­mance Horse

Acase of hives, also re­ferred to as ur­ticaria, can be frus­trat­ing for the horse, the owner and the treat­ing ve­teri­nar­ian. Be­cause hives are more com­mon in horses than in any other do­mes­ti­cated species (think dog, cat, cow, etc.), most peo­ple who have been around horses a while have, at one point or an­other, seen these fluid-filled, raised swellings also known as wheals, on the skin. They may also be aware that hives can show up min­utes to hours to days af­ter ex­po­sure to an in­cit­ing agent, may or may not be itchy and can ap­pear nearly any­where on a horse’s body.

Although hives are one way al­ler­gies can man­i­fest in the horse (equine asthma is an­other way), hives are not al­ways caused by al­ler­gies (and nei­ther is equine asthma). What makes hives par­tic­u­larly chal­leng­ing for care­givers and treat­ment providers alike is that many, many things can cause hives, such as in­sects, in­haled pol­lens, in­gested foods, ad­min­is­tered med­i­ca­tions, di­rect con­tact with a wide va­ri­ety of sub­stances, and even hot or cold tem­per­a­tures, pres­sure and ex­er­cise.

If it’s not a sim­ple, straight­for­ward case of hives that goes away and stays away, but in­stead falls into the cat­e­gory of “re­cur­rent” hives or causes ex­treme dis­com­fort to the point of anx­i­ety, ooz­ing and crust­ing or sec­ondary bac­te­rial in­fec­tions, then roll up your sleeves and pre­pare to work to­gether as a team to iden­tify the trig­ger fac­tor(s), as suc­cess in treat­ing hives will de­pend on elim­i­na­tion of the un­der­ly­ing cause.

Your first plan of at­tack should be to make the horse as com­fort­able as pos­si­ble, which might re­quire use of med­i­ca­tions such as steroids and an­ti­his­tamines, sup­ple­ments such as omega-3 fatty acids and MSM, and a skin-care reg­i­men such as cool rinses. Next, it is nec­es­sary to de­ter­mine the ini­tial cause of the hives. In some sit­u­a­tions, skin erup­tions can be linked to a re­cent de­worm­ing, an­tibi­otic ad­min­is­tra­tion or sim­i­lar event. This acute re­ac­tion may re­solve on its own and, if the prod­uct is avoided in the fu­ture, might never re­turn. In other sit­u­a­tions, a horse will break out with no ob­vi­ous changes in his life­style or man­age­ment and im­prove as long as he re­ceives dex­am­etha­sone or pred­nisone, only to have bumps and welts reap­pear as soon as the med­i­ca­tion is dis­con­tin­ued. These chronic types of cases are the most per­plex­ing.

Ob­vi­ous changes to the horse’s rou­tine should be shared with your ve­teri­nar­ian. Con­sider: Is it now bug

sea­son? Did you use a new bed­ding? Has the turnout pro­gram changed? Was the horse bathed with a new sham­poo? Your ve­teri­nar­ian might sug­gest avoid­ing or re­duc­ing ex­po­sure to in­sects, fly spray, a cer­tain brand of shav­ings, a spe­cific grass lot or a brand of top­i­cal prod­uct while the horse’s skin recovers. Then, your ve­teri­nar­ian might chal­lenge this the­ory by reap­ply­ing the pos­si­ble cause of the hives un­der con­trolled cir­cum­stances. If hives im­me­di­ately re­cur, this process of elim­i­na­tion worked. If not, it will be nec­es­sary to cast a wider net and keep search­ing for the cul­prit, even if it re­quires keep­ing a daily jour­nal of ob­ser­va­tions.

In ad­di­tion, the vet may need to per­form di­ag­nos­tic tests such as skin scrap­ings, cul­tures, im­pres­sion smears and biop­sies to defini­tively rule out con­flict­ing skin con­di­tions such as in­fec­tions.

Per­sis­tent cases may re­quire al­lergy test­ing to con­firm sus­pi­cions and aid in the de­vel­op­ment of a treat­ment plan, as al­ler­gen-spe­cific im­munother­apy (such as al­lergy shots or drops) may not only re­sult in a cure, but is a cost-ef­fec­tive op­tion with few side ef­fects that is com­pat­i­ble with com­pe­ti­tion drugs and med­i­ca­tion rules. Keep in mind that stud­ies show in­tra­der­mal skin test­ing is more re­li­able than sero­logic (blood) test­ing. With pa­tience, per­sis­tence and a good re­la­tion­ship with your vet, a case of hives can be re­solved and the horse can be com­fort­ably put back to work.

Ly­dia Gray, DVM, MA is the staff ve­teri­nar­ian/med­i­cal di­rec­tor for SmartPak. She is a USDF bronze medal­ist as well as an “L” Ed­u­ca­tion Pro­gram grad­u­ate with dis­tinc­tion. She com­petes her Trakehner, New­man, in both dres­sage and com­bined driv­ing.

Hives, also known as ur­ticaria, can ap­pear min­utes to hours to days af­ter ex­po­sure, may or may not be itchy and can oc­cur nearly any­where on a horse’s body.


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