Pollen allergies in horses

pollen allergies in horses

As soon as the yellow flowers of rape start to appear, some horse owners start to dread the prospect of the impending spring and summer as horses, like many people, suffer from a pollen allergy, or hay fever as it is more commonly known. 

What is a pollen allergy?

As its name suggests, it's an allergy caused by pollen or dust in which the mucous membranes of the eyes and nose are inflamed, causing running at the nose and watery eyes. Hay fever is simply an allergic reaction to the pollen.

Pollen is released into the air from grass, plants, and trees by the billions during the spring and summer months. Pollen particles are intended to fertilise other plants. 

This makes our eyes itch, nose run, and generally makes us feel pretty rubbish. 

Why do horses get a pollen allergy?

Although it's somewhat different, horses are able to contract hay fever-like symptoms during the same seasons as their owners. 

A horse’s nasal cavity is structured in such a way to prevent anything from entering it by acting as an air filter. There are long hairs in the nose that will trap any particles coming in through the airway. However, as there is an abundance of pollen in the spring and summer, these can build up and cause problems for susceptible horses. Just like humans, the pollen triggers an allergic reaction, which can lead to blood vessels dilating and then inflammation.

Symptoms

Pollen allergies, or rather hay fever, are very common in horses, more often seen in young and old ones. Unlike humans, horses that are allergic to pollen will often show symptoms that are more similar to that of flu – not like the symptoms we get that are more related to the sinus and nasal areas.

In most cases, the horse’s lungs will become inflamed which can make them more susceptible to viral and bacterial infections. Other common symptoms include:

* Coughing

* Increased eye discharge

* Head shaking

* Lethargy

* Poor performance.

Psychological symptoms include lack of concentration and possibly behavioural problems.

Prevention

When it comes to prevention, you may be able to determine which type of pollen affects your horse. Some pollen comes out stronger at different times of the year, making it easier to attribute it as the cause of the problem, thus allowing you to avoid that pollen as much as possible.  

On days where the pollen count is extreme, consider not taking your horse out, or avoid going near the offending pollen.

It may also be a good idea to stable your horse during the day and turn them out at night to avoid any increased exposure.

Treatment

Other ways to manage this respiratory problem are using items such as pollen nets or face masks to help ease the coughing, head shaking and nose itching.

For schooling outside and hacking there are two options:

* A nose net is one of the most effective products in controlling the symptoms of head-shaking:

* Improved the symptoms of 79% of head-shaking sufferers in clinical trials at De Montfort University

* Contoured mesh for a comfortable fit over the whole of the muzzle

* Attaches easily to a nose band

* Totally unobtrusive

* Doesn’t interfere with the horse’s breathing

* Permitted by British Dressage and British Eventing for use in competition

Equilibrium Net Relief Muzzle Net

Shop all Nose Nets

If you want a nose net with a bit more cover, combine a nose net with a mask for the face too. This can be done with a nose net and a face mask.

Equilibrium Net Relief Riding Mask

For turn out, if it’s your horse's eyes as well as nose that the pollen is affecting, a full-length fly mask may be a better option. Look out for designs that cover the whole of the muzzle, such as this great value one - the Shires Field Durable Fly Mask with Ears and Nose. Note how well the whole muzzle is well covered. 

Shires Field Durable Fly Mask with Ears and Nose

Shop all fly masks for turn out with nose protection.

Herbs are a great addition to feed as it’s thought to help expel mucus and cleanse the lungs. If your horses breathing is laboured as an effect of pollen allergies, feeding a supplement high in Vitamin E and Vitamin C has been shown to be effective in reducing the severity of respiratory symptoms.

NAF Five Star Respirator

Shop all supplements for respiratory problems

Shop Nose Nets

Author

Kim Horton

Co-Founder of EQUUS and a keen equestrian, when Kim's not at her desk she's with her horse, Waldo.

Comments

  • Gill posted on April 10 2020 at 07:04 AM

    My horse suffers with the pollen from early springtime. He has an itchy nose and runny eye – one more than the other. He is turned out with a fly mask (also used for hacking, but not schooling). A few years ago I bought a fly mask which covered his nose but he did everything to try to remove it and was tricky to lead in and out. Just wondering if it’s worth trying antihistamines.

  • Kim Kendall posted on April 12 2020 at 05:04 PM

    My 7 year old gelding that I bred started to show signs of hay fever and allergies generally from approx 3. He has runny eyes, nose, and started to head shake. He also started to spend months covered in hives. I had a sample of his hair analysed and that identified various issues including allergy to pollen, stress etc. To deal with the hay fever when at its worst on the recommendation of my vet he has up to 20 Piriton a day. For the past year I have had him on Aloeride, recommended by a race yard. It is fantastic in dealing with all his issues; plus I have taken him off his usual hard feed and have him on a non cereal diet of Topchop Lite and Baileys performance balancer. The head shaking is also under control – it had become more of a habit. Unfortunately COVID-19 prevents us from cracking on with some serious competitions.

  • Kay Webb posted on April 12 2020 at 05:04 PM

    I am not a vet and am only saying what I do. if you are at all concerned please seek expert advice.

    I was told by my instructor that on the advice of her vet she gives her horse antihistamine tablets, and suggested it might be good for my horse as we had to abandon lessons because of the coughing, head pulling and head shaking. It worked a treat so this year I
    Am giving them to him much earlier than last year. He also wears a full face and nose mask in the field as well as out riding. Also Vaseline around the nose cavities apparently helps stop pollen from entering so I am also putting that on. Seems to be working, but it’s not just 1 or 2 tablets so can be quite expensive! Seek vet advice if unsure. I am not giving nearly as many tablets as my instructor is giving to her horse,but the amount I have chosen to give seems to be working and I can ride him in the school now.

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