What are hives? What causes hives in horses?

Marijke and friend

Marijke van de Water, B.Sc., DHMS


Question: My horse frequently gets hives. They cover almost his entire body and the bumps are big and itchy. How do horses get hives? How do I get rid of them?

Answer: Recent years has seen the incidence of hives and other skin ailments in horses on the increase. Skin conditions can be quite challenging with hives especially disconcerting since they can be very itchy and edematous. Hives are a raised, itchy area of skin that is elevated above the surrounding skin. They are often seen on the neck and shoulders but can basically affect any area of the entire body. They can last anywhere from a few hours to several weeks.

It is commonly thought that hives are a result of an allergic reaction to environmental allergens such as weeds, bedding or airborne particles. I have not found this to be true in the majority of cases. An outbreak of hives is almost always influenced by a compromised immune system as precipitated by feed intolerances, adverse reactions to vaccinations (acute or chronic), colon and liver toxicity and/or nutritional deficiencies.

1) Feed intolerances: The primary culprit is excess alfalfa. Excess dietary alfalfa will produce higher than normal levels of ammonia which overburdens the liver and kidneys. Since the skin is the largest elimination organ in the body many of these toxic products will try to escape through the skin. It’s what horsemen and women used to call “protein bumps”.
2) Vaccine reactions: Many horse owners find that their horses break out immediately or shortly after their vaccinations. This is because many horses are becoming more and more sensitive to the negative immune effects of over-vaccinating which affects the liver and lymph system.
3) Colon and liver toxicity: The liver has an incredible responsibility of detoxifying chemicals and toxins, decongesting fats and producing many of the cells within the immune system. It is also responsible for neutralizing toxicity coming from the hindgut as caused by mal-digestion, over-fermentation, and pathogenic bacteria. Excess starches and sugars should therefore be kept to a minimum, as should over-medicating, over-vaccinating and undue stress.
4) Nutritional deficiencies: The immune system is dependent on some very important nutrients to maintain a healthy, optimum function. The two nutrients which I find to be most commonly deficient in the presence of hives are iron and/or iodine (important for thyroid function, the health of which determines strong immunity).

No alfalfa
No grain or other high sugar feeds
Riva’s Remedies Equi-Derm containing chickweed, plantain and yellow dock. This has proved to be an amazing formula for a variety of skin conditions acting as a blood cleanser, liver detoxifier, immune stimulant and skin tonic.
Riva’s Remedies Happy Horse which contains a seaweed blend – seaweed is high in iodine and other trace minerals).
Vitamin C – 8,000 mg daily (supports immunity)


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