Allergies and Your Horse
By Patti Duffy-Salmon

Young Green Cleavers

What are allergies?

An allergy is basically an overreactive response by the body's immune system to a substance that is most likely not harmful.

The immune system has a defense procedure that helps us fight infection. It can identify "alien substances" and then the white cells fight off the invaders. In some animals and in people, the immune system identifies a substance as an invader when it is not, and the white cells overreact and do more damage than the actual invading substances.

The substances that cause allergies are allergens. They can be most anything from mold and pollen to food and insect bites. The more common responses are sneezing, runny eyes, coughing, asthma, hay fever, hives, and eczema. The more extreme allergic reactions are usually associated with food allergies and stinging insect allergies, both of which can cause anaphylactic shock.

Anaphylactic shock is when the body starts to shut down on its own. Sometimes the body can overreact to such an extreme as to put the body into anaphylactic shock. This is at the extreme end of an allergic reaction. It's a very dangerous situation and those who have extreme allergic reactions such as this will carry an Epi pen. An Epi pen is a self-injector of epinephrine. Epi is used to basically kick start the heart and the system again.

One should try to identify the cause of the actual allergic reaction and attempt to eliminate it. There are allergy tests that can be done for horses, usually not skin tests but blood tests. They can be very useful in identifying your horse's problems.

I do like to treat the body from the inside first, to get to the root of the problem, so the first line of defense would be to have a good working immune system. I would not choose echinacea if one is trying to help the immune system in this case, due to the fact that many might be allergic to the actual plant itself, and this includes your horse. So I would go with astragalus and Siberian ginseng instead. Both are very beneficial to the body.

When dealing with airborne type allergens, such as pollens, it is a bit more difficult to get away from them. But there are certain things you can do to help the horse with allergies. I like to start with some herbs for the lymphatic system. The lymphatic system is pretty important to the body and its major function is drainage of the cells, tissues and organs. Its second function is the lymphatic glands. Many will find that their lymphatic glands are swollen (clogged) and not draining properly when they are having an allergic reaction. This can be the case with your horse as well.

The herb of choice would be CLEAVERS (gallium aparine). Cleavers is also called "goose grass" or "bedstraw" or "clivers". I consider it to be one of the best tonic herbs for the lymphatic system. It contains both alterative and diuretic type properties. Flushing excess fluid and toxins from the body is very important.

For skin type allergic reactions, I like to feed garlic along with some alterative type herbs, such as cleavers, burdock and red clover. For upper respiratory type reactions there are many different herbs that may help and it will depend on the horse's specific allergies.

Herbs that may be needed would be expectorants, alteratives, anti-catarrhals, febrifuges, and demulcents. Garlic, yarrow flowers, and peppermint can all help, as can boneset, elder flowers, mullein leaf, horehound, anise seed, chickweed, and nettle. Marshmallow root and slippery elm bark are excellent demulcents that will help to soothe irritated airways.

I have found that Reishi mushroom is also excellent for allergies, but I don't think it is very cost effective when treating horses. All the medicinal mushrooms are extremely expensive, though one could use a mushroom extract instead.

Allergies don't have to make life miserable for you and your horse. Affording allergies can be difficult, but there are herbs that can help, so it's always wise to be armed herbally.

About the author:
Patti Duffy-Salmon, owner and master herbalist of Meadowsweet Acre Herbs, Inc., specializes in custom blended herbs for horses, especially for EPM, laminitis, and Cushings, and for PMS mares. Free phone consultations, a print catalog and an on-line catalog are available. Visit Patti, her horse Moose, and Meadowsweet Acres at,, or call 931-684-8838.