What are Food Allergies?
Food allergies are commonly misdiagnosed but can be found in many species. It is an issue that is difficult to diagnose in horses from the lack of reliable testing methods. If your horse is diagnosed with a food allergy, there are few forms of treatment that have proven successful. The most promising revolution is to find the source of the allergy and remove it from his diet. If this does not work or is taking too long, you can also try to improve his gut flora. By keeping it balanced and healthy, he will be less sensitive to food allergens. Recovery will depend on his diagnosis, the severity of his issue, and the method of treatment you choose.
Food allergies in horses are rare but possible. Horses with food allergies are sensitive to certain food types and if consumed, can cause your horse’s body to have a reaction. If you suspect your horse has a food allergy, consult with your veterinarian.
Book First Walk Free!
Symptoms of Food Allergies in Horses
Symptoms of food allergies in horses can manifest in many ways including:
- Dermal pruritus
- Itchy, inflamed skin
- Crusty skin
- Hair loss
- Vascular inflammation
- Chronic colic
- Weight loss, long term
It can be difficult to determine if your horse is suffering from food sensitivity or from a true food allergy. Food allergies are highly over diagnosed which can lead to issues since food sensitivity and food allergies should be treated differently. However, even though these are two different diagnoses, the symptoms are very similar making it extremely difficult to differentiate. This has lead to the term ‘food allergy’ to include any and all adverse reactions to food.
Causes of Food Allergies in Horses
When a human or animal has a food allergy, antigens from the food break through the intestinal mucosal barrier and are recognized by the immune system as dangerous. The body has a natural way to protect itself from possible pathogenic agents that can result in an adverse reaction to the food. This occurs more commonly in foals than older horses, but is has been known to happen.
Some scientists believe the food allergy can develop secondary to the horse’s system fighting a different pathogen. Even if the pH of the gastrointestinal flora is out of balance, it can lead to the body rejecting the food.
Diagnosis of Food Allergies in Horses
Unfortunately, there is no quick way for the veterinarian to diagnose your horse with food allergies. The symptoms associated with food allergies are vague and can be caused by many illnesses so the veterinarian has to come to her diagnosis by a rule out method. This can be a long, tedious process and it can be difficult to not get discouraged.
There are two diagnostics tests you can elect the equine veterinarian to perform on your horse, but they have been deemed unreliable. Intradermal allergen testing and serum allergen testing may be a good way for diagnosing food allergies in other species, but not horses.
You may have to request instructions on how to put your horse on an elimination diet in order to find out exactly which ingredient he is allergic to. This can be time consuming and costly, but in some cases it may be the only way to get a proper diagnosis.
Treatment of Food Allergies in Horses
The veterinarian may choose to treat your horse’s symptoms as they appear, but this will never lead to a cure for the problem. You may be able to offer temporary relief from his itchy skin, but if you do not remove the cause, it will just reappear.
Some veterinarians believe the best form of treatment in horses with a food allergy is to improve the horse’s gut health. Some professionals feel that if you spend the same amount of time trying to improve the gut flora as you do to come to a definitive diagnosis, your results are close to the same. By improving the gut flora, your horse’s skin will improve, he will be less itchy, and will suffer from fewer allergic related problems. Adjusting his diet may also be helpful. It is said the best diet includes little to no grains, high fiber, and high fat with probiotics to be delivered to the hind gut.
Recovery of Food Allergies in Horses
If you are unable to find the source of the food related allergy in your horse, it is likely he will suffer from it continuously. If you are able to find what is causing the allergic reaction and remove it from his diet, then he may have a chance at recovering. You can offer him relief from his symptoms by treating those in the meantime. This will at least make him comfortable and provide quality of life.