Do horses have food allergies?

Horses are prone to suffering from a wide range of food allergies, like humans.

Whilst every horse is different in the way that their bodies react to certain things, a particular ingredient in something you’re feeding your horse could trigger an allergic reaction, which means the immune system reacts negatively. This means that one horse could be fine with eating oats in the morning, whereas another can develop symptoms after devouring the meal.

In this guide, we’ve shared all you need to know about food allergies in horses, including how to spot the warning signs and know when your horse needs medical attention:

Types of horse allergies

There are two types of reaction that your horse could develop from their food, but one doesn’t always signal an allergy.

  • Allergies: When the immune system of your horse’s body reacts to a certain food.
  • Intolerances: When your horse’s immune system doesn’t react, but their body still reacts abnormally when certain foods are digested.

Despite this, any type of reaction that your horse develops when they eat certain ingredients should be investigated in order to alleviate any symptoms they may be experiencing.

What food can horses be allergic to?

Whilst your horse can develop a negative reaction to anything in their diet, there are some food groups that have been reported to provoke more allergies. These include wheat and feed additives, oats, potatoes, barley and bran.

Wheat, oats, potatoes, barley and bran can provoke alergic reactions in horses

Symptoms of an equine food allergy

Due to horse allergies being very complex and dependant on the food they’re reacting to, symptoms can be very confusing and associate themselves with other health conditions.

However, the most common symptoms of a food allergies in horses are:

  • Severe itching and redness on the skin
  • Diarrhoea
  • Hives
  • Low-grade colic
  • Itchy or watering eyes

Things to do if you suspect your horse has a food allergy

Because your horse can develop an allergy to anything that they’ve eaten, it’s often hard to diagnose the specific ingredient that is making them ill. This means that a case of trial and error is usually needed.

Testing for food allergies in horses can be done by gradually removing factors in their diet and monitoring the effect. For example, if you replace their oat supply with buckwheat and the symptoms of a suspected food allergy disappear or minimise, you’ll have an idea of the ingredients that don’t agree with their body.

However, if the symptoms are severe and you suspect that your horse is becoming ill, you should consult the advice of your vet immediately in order to provide the best and most effective treatment for their food allergy.

Horse allergies caused by diet can be identified and managed fairly easily

Managing a horse with allergies

Because horse allergies can usually be tested and treated by swapping items from their diet, managing a horse with food allergies isn’t usually a big task.

Whilst you may spend weeks swapping and changing bits from their feeding routine, once you’ve nailed the problem ingredient, you should have a good idea on how to steer clear from items that could provoke an allergic reaction.

As you can see, food allergies in horses are fairly common and don’t usually require emergency medical treatment. However, it’s important to have horse insurance to protect your pet against any severe allergies that they may experience to get the best treatment without leaving you cash-strapped.

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