First Walk is on Us!

✓ GPS tracked walks
✓ Activity reports
✓ On-demand walkers
Book FREE Walk

Jump to Section

What is Shampoo Allergy?

An allergy is when your horse’s immune system has an over reaction to some type of allergen. Allergies can be caused by a number of things including shampoos or ingredients in shampoos. 

You may not realize that your horse is having an allergic reaction to their shampoo because it may take a few days to a few weeks after their shower for symptoms to appear. However, if you notice your horse exhibiting the same symptoms following every shower, you may want to investigate the ingredients in their shampoo. 

Never use shampoo formulated for humans, dogs or cats on your horse. These shampoos have harsher cleaning agents and will strip your horse’s coat of their natural oils and cause skin dryness and flaking. Also, never use dish detergent or hand soap on your horse.

Just like with humans, there is a wide array of shampoos for horses to choose from ranging from gentle and soothing to tough on dirt and fragrant. Deciding which shampoo to use on your horse will depend on how sensitive your horse’s skin is and if they have any allergies to the ingredients of the shampoo.

Book First Walk Free!

Symptoms of Shampoo Allergy in Horses

You may not realize that your horse is suffering from a shampoo allergy unless the symptoms begin immediately following the cleaning. In many cases though, the symptoms do not begin appearing immediately but instead show within a few days to a few weeks of your horse’s shower. If you notice any of these symptoms, contact your veterinarian and discuss what could be causing your horse’s allergic reaction.

  • Localized swelling on the body or face
  • Skin abrasions from rubbing irritated areas
  • Hair loss or alopecia
  • Crusting or scaling on the skin
  • Itching 
  • Skin redness
  • Hives
  • Skin darkening

Causes of Shampoo Allergy in Horses

A horse’s skin and hair are very sensitive and require the use of horse shampoo. A horse’s pH level for their skin and hair is around a 7.0 whereas humans and dogs have a pH level around 5.0. Horses require gentler cleaning agents in their shampoo and most horse shampoos will have the main ingredient as water but will also contain diethanolamide, glyceride, sodium chloride and citric acid. 

If you know that your horse has particularly sensitive skin, avoid shampoos that contain fragrances and extra chemicals. The citric acid will give your horse’s shampoo a pleasing smell without having to add fragrances that could potentially cause an allergic reaction. 

Glyceride contains animal fats and oils that work with the sodium chloride to help break down the dirt and remove the residue. Diethanolamide has fatty acids that create the foam of the shampoo and cleans through tough dirt. The citric acid has a pleasing smell plus it has antioxidants and antibacterial properties that help clean your horse’s hair without being harsh.

Diagnosis of Shampoo Allergy in Horses

It can sometimes be difficult to determine the cause of your horse’s allergic reaction. Your veterinarian will take a complete medical history and will ask you about your horse’s environment and feed. If you have just bathed your horse, show your veterinarian the shampoo that you used so they can see the ingredient list. 

Your veterinarian will complete a thorough physical examination on your horse. This will include routine testing such as a complete blood count, urinalysis, fecal exam and biochemistry panel. If there are lesions present from your horse rubbing, your veterinarian may take a skin scraping to examine under the microscope for bacteria, fungus or parasites. 

Your veterinarian may opt to perform specific allergy testing to see if they can pin-point which allergen is causing the problem. If your veterinarian suspects your horse’s shampoo they may run specific allergen tests for the ingredients of the shampoo.

Treatment of Shampoo Allergy in Horses

Once your veterinarian has determined that your horse is allergic to the shampoo that was used they will begin treatments to stop the allergic reaction. They will more than likely have you thoroughly rinse your horse again with clean water, a mild oatmeal based shampoo may be recommended to ensure that all the reside from the offending shampoo is removed.

Steroids may be given if the allergic reaction is severe. This will help stop your horse’s immune system from attacking the body and relieve some of the symptoms, especially any itching. The most common steroids that are given are prednisolone and dexamethasone. An antihistamine such as pyrilamine or hydroxyzine may also be given.

Recovery of Shampoo Allergy in Horses

Discontinue use of any shampoo that causes an allergic reaction. If you know that your horse has sensitive skin, you will need to look for a horse shampoo that is specifically formulated for sensitive skin. 

Avoid any horse shampoos that contain ingredients you are not familiar with and also avoid fragrances and colors. Research your horse’s shampoo before you purchase. Always thoroughly rinse your horse after their bath to make sure all the shampoo has been removed from their skin and hair.