Hives and horses


Hives, officially called urticaria, are raised bumps on your horse. They typically are head and neck, but some progress all over the body.  Hives and horses do not mix well – and are a sign you need to do some investigating.  Hives can run the full spectrum of mild, non-itchy, and no big deal to severe, super itchy, life-threatening, or any place in between. There is a level of discomfort that is experienced with hives as well.


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Causes of hives


  • Most hives on horses are caused by some allergic reaction, perhaps from one of these sources:


    • Food
    • Pasture
    • Weeds
    • Medications
    • Vaccinations
    • Pollen
    • Molds/mildews
    • Insects
    • Bedding
    • Topical ointments and sprays
    • Grooming products
    • Laundry detergents

horse with hives on the face

These hives are smaller, and a bit annoying to this horse.


How are hives formed?


  • Hives are formed when the underlying blood vessels are inflamed because of some allergen, called the trigger.


  • The vessels start to leak fluid from the bloodstream into the areas just below the skin. Some hives are also related to the digestive system of your horse.


  • For the most part, hives are something your horse can quickly recover from, although in rare cases, hives can interfere with breathing. It’s always a good idea to involve your veterinarian if your horse shows up with hives.


horse with large bug bits on her side

Your horse may be allergic to something in his world – bugs, grasses, weeds, food, air, the universe.


Work with your vet to narrow down possible causes


  • Blood tests to check for allergies are questionable at best, and some veterinarians prefer to use skin tests to check for possible allergens. You can also try and figure things out by eliminating possible sources of irritation.


  • If you go the elimination route, go step by step to be sure about the trigger. In some cases, the source is obvious; it’s the new spray or new feed or something different from every other day your horse has had.


  • However – know that some allergic reactions develop over time, so a seemingly routine part of your horse’s life may have reached the tipping point and now he’s a hot mess of hives.


vet taking blood from the jugular vein of a horse

Bloodwork may be able to help your vet determine what the source of your horse’s hives is.


What’s the treatment plan for hives?


  • Your veterinarian can ultimately give you a treatment plan, which may or may not include anti-inflammatory medications and/or antihistamines.


  • You may also find that a cool shower soothes some of the hives, or perhaps your horse really wants a little scratch. Avoid riding a horse with hives. They already feel bad, and tack may irritate the hives even more.


  • Once you have a treatment plan and a good idea of the source, you can alter your horse’s lifestyle to avoid future outbreaks.


Don’t ignore these possibly itchy bumps!


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