Equine Hay Fever
Many of us know the struggle of the dreaded hay fever. Itchy eyes, runny noses and sore throats are not pleasant at all, but did you know that your horse can also suffer from seasonal allergies? Hay fever is a surprisingly common condition in equines and can affect all types of horses. Equine hay fever is most problematic in the summer months when environmental pollen levels are high. Grass pollen season usually lasts from June to August with tree pollen season occurring between February and June. Environmental pollen levels tend to be highest on warm or windy days, and pollen concentration tends to be at its highest during the early afternoon.
Pollen is a powdery yellow substance which consists of tiny microscopic grains and is produced from seed plants. When discharged from the plant, pollen particles are transported in a number of ways. The most common vector for pollen transport is wind. The light particles can often be carried many kilometres on a windy day. Pollen can also be transferred by insects, birds and other animals who’s skin or fur come into contact with the substance. Pollen can float and travel on the surface of water meaning it can contaminate water sources.
The horses’ nasal cavities contain thousands of cilia - tiny hair like structures whose function is to trap and sweep out tiny airborne particles to prevent them from entering the respiratory system. However, when outdoor pollen levels are high, sometimes these structures become overwhelmed and fail to function at capacity. Particles that escape these cilia can enter the respiratory system, triggering an allergic reaction which causes blood vessels to dilate resulting in airway inflammation. When the airways become inflamed the horse will start to exhibit symptoms associate with hay fever, these include:
- Increased coughing and sneezing
- Excessive eye and nasal discharge
- Behavioural issues such as head shaking and loss of concentration when riding
- Changes to normal breathing patterns such as increased respiration rate
At Equinutritive we have compiled a list of our top tips to help manage equine hay fever and keep your horse breathing easy:
- Make use of nose nets and fly masks to limit pollen particles entering the nostrils and eyes.
- Grazing paddocks should be managed by topping them regularly to ensure they are free of pollinating plants.
- Keep horses stabled during the day when pollen levels are at the highest and turn out at night time instead when pollen levels are significantly lower. If stabling is not possible ensure horses have access to a field shelter. On days when the pollen count is especially high try to refrain from riding in fields or outside if possible.
- Ensure that the horses’ environment is kept as dust free as possible to prevent further irritation to the airways. Stables should be well ventilated and dust free bedding should be used. Soaking forage has shown to be highly effective for removing dust.
- In severe cases it is worth contacting a vet who may prescribe medication. Failure to treat or manage hay fever can result in the development of secondary respiratory infections or recurrent airway obstruction (RAO). This is an inflammatory disease of the respiratory system that is characterised by a chronic intermittent cough which can inhibit athletic performance.
- Feeding a specially formulated respiratory supplement can help support airways and maintain respiratory system health. There are many respiratory supplements available on the market, some of which are formulated to support horses with specific respiratory issues. For optimal airway health and support we recommend feeding an all round respiratory supplement.