Recently I’ve been talking to a lady who contacted me originally because her much loved horse suddenly developed a bad case of ‘hives’ appearing over his neck and where his saddle sits.
Her vet had advised cold-hosing, no riding, and be patient. A month later, his lumps were still there – and getting bigger. She’d called her vet out again, who apparently arrived in a very dismissive mood, and said the only thing he could do was give her horse steroids. She wisely said ‘no thanks’ and contacted us for any suggestions.
The term ‘hives’ basically means lumpy swellings that can appear anywhere on the body. Also known as ‘nettle-rash’ amongst other nick-names, the medical term is ‘urticaria’. There are differing schools of thought as to what causes hives – they’re commonly thought of as an allergic reaction but the source can be tricky to track – they can erupt due to anything from environmental allergens such as bedding or pollens, to medications, food, and topical creams. It’s also thought that an outbreak of hives can be influenced by a compromised immune system.
We’ve had two horses who would present with sudden hives outbreaks. During his first summer with us, our beautiful TB, Blas, had a shockingly bad reaction to tick bites – at the time we lived very near an ancient forest heavily populated with wild deer. Overnight he blew up with golf-ball-sized hard lumps all over his body, and especially his face, which resembled a bad case of mumps. Also, Kelso used to get what we thought was a hive breakout every year, early summer, which some think is the most common time for hives to present – I remember at the time not being able to recognise any specific changes other than a shift in mugginess from fresh spring air to the warmer, more humid atmosphere.
Kelso had major skin intolerances anyway – he was a chronic sweet itch and pollen sufferer, and keeping his immunity strong was essential - if we had his system firing on all 6 cylinders, he’d be in the best shape to fight all his allergies. His lumps would barely last a couple of weeks, never get to any kind of worrying stage, and once gone were gone.
The best treatment for hives is, of course, to eliminate the source of the problem, but sometimes it's not that easy. Knowing generally the kind of things that might cause hives, my first suggestion to our client was that she look back over her horse’s recent regime – had anything changed? Any new medication lately? With the occasional warm day we've recently been having, had she started to use fly-spray? Were there any changes in feed or hay? She said there was nothing different. Hmmmn. Okay.
So we moved onto environment factors – had he experienced any extreme changes in temperature, i.e. extreme heat or cold, exercise routine, or any new stressors that might intensify the allergic reaction? She came back again with a negative. So with pretty much nowhere else to go, I recommended she give her chap’s immune system a good boost so she ordered a bag of our SkinTonic.
A week ago, and a week into his herb blend, she contacted me again. She’d had a light-bulb moment – she remembered she’d changed her horse’s feed to a lucerne-base feed because she was bringing her horse back into work and felt he needed more protein in his diet. The significance of this hadn’t occurred to her as she was staying with the same feed company and was focusing on the protein content, not the ingredient that it was coming from.
Aha! A possible feed intolerance? I suggested that alfalfa is well-known cause for skin sensitivity, and some horses simply can’t tolerate it (interestingly, in the old days, traditional horsemen used to call hives 'protein bumps'). Amongst other symptoms, alfalfa can produce higher than normal levels of ammonia which overburden the liver and kidneys. Since the skin is the largest elimination organ in the body, many toxins try to escape through the skin through the sweat glands, but if it's all a bit overburdened and clogged ...
I suggested she immediately stop feeding the new lucerne feed, which she agreed to do. This morning I got a lovely email from one very relieved owner saying that within a week her chap’s lumps have completely vanished. TaDah! Have to say I love it when we can help get to the root cause of an issue, and balanced health is achieved again without either chemical intervention or cost. However, not wishing to get complacent, hives can be really mystifying and the source can sometimes be nigh on impossible to track down, so the top tips are to keep immunity and digestion systems strong, and at the first sign of any adverse lumps or bumps, try to track back to any changes and think elimination.
Edited 3.2.21 - See the Histamine Intolerance blog - recent science shows that hives are caused by overproduction of histamine as a result of an offending allergen.