Hives (Urticaria) Average Cost

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What is Hives (Urticaria)?

Urticaria, known more commonly as hives, is a common skin reaction in horses. Although hives are not generally life-threatening, they can develop into more serious problems. These small raised wheals are extremely itchy, and if your horse scratches to excess, they may become even more inflamed or even rupture, which can lead to dangerous skin infections. Swelling that occurs in the throat and nasal passages is rare, but when it happens it can make breathing difficult, if not impossible.

Hives in horses are small rounded lumps and bumps on the skin; they are usually not painful or life threatening unless they cause the throat to swell.

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Symptoms of Hives (Urticaria) in Horses

Urticaria, better known as hives, is a unexceptional skin condition for the horse. The primary symptom is rounded bumps on the skin that can occur anywhere on the body, and quite often in large numbers. Some additional symptoms that can accompany urticaria include:

  • Depression
  • Fever
  • Loss of appetite
  • Poor performance
  • Restlessness and excitability
  • Swollen lips or muzzle


Hives are often caused by an allergic reaction. Other skin disorders caused by an allergic reaction can include:

  • Angioedema - Bumps similar in size to hives but found subcutaneously, in the fatty layer beneath the skin; angioedema may occur with or without hives, and the itching and burning sensations can be intense
  • Atopy - Atopy is an allergic reaction characterized by inflamed and itchy skin; horses with atopy may also develop papules, tiny raised bumps, which are usually under a centimeter in diameter

Causes of Hives (Urticaria) in Horses

Allergic reactions are the most common cause of hives, and the allergic reaction may be a response to allergens such as biting or stinging insects, ingested plants or insects, or to a substance that came into contact with the horse's skin. Other conditions that can cause hives to form include:

  • Cold
  • Heat
  • Overexertion
  • Stress
  • Sunlight

Diagnosis of Hives (Urticaria) in Horses

Hives have a distinctive raised appearance and are frequently diagnosed visually. In many cases, the hives disappear on their own before the animal is even able to be evaluated by a veterinarian. When they are serious enough for examination, the primary diagnostic focus is not on the hives themselves, but rather on what caused the hives to develop in the first place. Hives are caused by allergic reaction more often than by anything else, so determining the correct allergen is the primary focus.

Skin scrapings will often be taken from any areas that are affected by the hives or by other types of rash, for use in the microscopic examination of the skin cells to look for issues like signs of disease, mites, or yeast infections. This type of evaluation is called a cutaneous cytology. In some cases, small amounts of the suspected allergen or allergens are injected under the skin to determine which substance the animal is allergic to.

Treatment of Hives (Urticaria) in Horses

Quite often urticaria disappears spontaneously, and may never be explained. but in cases where it persists, your veterinarian may prescribe a steroid injection or steroids added into the feed. As hives are a common symptom with drug allergies, all medications should be stopped if your horse is experiencing hives that don’t dissipate in just a few hours. Antihistamines formulated for horses such as hydroxyzine pamoate and cetirizine can be quite effective, as can doxepin, a tricyclic antidepressant with the properties of an antihistamine. Horses generally respond quite well to antihistamines, and very few equines develop either excitability or drowsiness from taking them. 

Another option for relieving allergy symptoms in horses is called hyposensitization. Hyposensitization is a technique in which the animal is injected with a formula specifically designed for the horse's specific allergies. Although this treatment may show significant improvement in as few as two months, a minimum of a full twelve months is generally required for maximum success. If the hives appear to be related to biting insects, insect repellent formulated for horses, or a fly sheet and mask should be used.

Recovery of Hives (Urticaria) in Horses

The prognosis of urticaria is dependent on the severity of the case and whether or not it reoccurs. Many cases of urticaria do not reoccur, and quite often the allergen or other cause may never be definitively diagnosed. When the hives are persistent the prognosis for clearing up the lumps and bumps may be more guarded, although equine antihistamines are often helpful in relieving symptoms. Allergies in the horse can be difficult to pin down and some veterinarians and horse owners find it easier to simply change the horse’s environment as much as possible. This can include changing the horses usual feed, pasture, and stall.

Hives (Urticaria) Questions and Advice from Veterinary Professionals

12 Years
Fair condition
0 found helpful
Fair condition

I think my horse may have hives. I have been out of town for a week and upon returning my horse is covered in whelps from his head to his tail. All along his neck, stomach-sides and underneath, and down his back legs. Brushed him this morning and he was really enjoying it. I have been feeding him garlic salt, about 2 oz./day, this summer for the first time. I don't know when this started exactly, but he is covered. Every thing else seems okay. Any suggestions? I have read that benadryl has been used to treat some cases. Is this good or should I wait on my vet?

Dr. Michele King, DVM
Dr. Michele King, DVM
1611 Recommendations
I can't actually diagnose or prescribe anything without seeing Cody, and it would be best to have your veterinarian look at him before giving anything. You may be able to call your veterinarian, and they may be able to advise something over the phone if they have seen him. Benadryl can be used safely in most animals for allergic reactions, but I can't say for sure that that is what is happening to him.

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Quarter Horse
24 Years
Moderate condition
1 found helpful
Moderate condition

Has Symptoms

Hives and laying down , not eating.

.My 24 year old AQH broke out in hives and was laying down with no interest in food. I am away on vacation , so had my sitter call a Vet.
He is now on steroids and is doing better.
Could this be from fire ant bites ?
I have pretty much rolled out everything else.
He gets garlic everyday, he is kept in his stall under fans during the day with turnout on pasture at night.

Dr. Callum Turner, DVM
Dr. Callum Turner, DVM
3320 Recommendations
There are many possible causes for a breakout of hives in horses which may include bites from a variety of different insects especially during the summer months which is why it is best to keep horses stabled during the hours of dawn and dusk when insects are most active; fans in the stable are great in preventing flying insects as well as screens (if appropriate). Regards Dr Callum Turner DVM

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14 Years
Mild condition
0 found helpful
Mild condition

Has Symptoms

Large lumps on belly and flanks,

Hi, think my horse has hives. She has never had it before but since she's been in foal she's got them. She's due in 2 months time and has only just got them. Large lumps over her belly and flanks.

Dr. Michele King, DVM
Dr. Michele King, DVM
1611 Recommendations
Thank you for your email. Without examining Dahlia, I can't comment on what might be going on with her. It would be best to contact your veterinarian to have her examined, as she may be having an allergic reaction that needs to be treated.

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