Complementary therapies for equine allergies

Equine allergies present a complex problem. Fortunately for your horse, a multi-pronged holistic approach can treat the underlying cause.

Allergies are a manifestation of an out-of-balance immune system. A healthy immune system can recognize the difference between itself and outside invaders. But the out-of-balance system will attack itself because it cannot differentiate between itself and these invaders; it actually thinks of “self” as the invader. Typically, the “invader” is pollen or some other trigger. A multi-faceted holistic approach is the best way to get to the root of equine allergies.

Typical allergic presentations in horses include hives in the skin, asthma and COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease) in the lungs, swollen eyes and eyelids (which may turn into ulceration from trauma), and even diarrhea in the case of inflammatory bowel disease, if the allergies affect the intestinal system.

In holistic veterinary medicine, the goal of any treatment is to find the underlying cause of the clinical symptoms. By addressing/treating the underlying cause, the clinical symptoms are not only treated but don’t return. This is why holistic medicine is so successful; it’s much more humane (and ultimately less expensive) to correct the issue rather than constantly cover up the symptoms.

Main avenues of allergy treatment in horses

There are three main avenues to address in order to treat equine allergies with holistic medicine: nutrition, detoxification, and using chiropractic for physical well-being/performance.

Step one: nutrition

What to feed horses is one of the most controversial subjects. In many cases, convenient sourcing and years of habit are difficult to overcome. However, a few points should clarify the importance of optimal nutrition and changing the status quo.

Most equine pelleted feeds are made with by-products of the human food industry (wheat middlings are one example). These by-products are over-processed, potentially causing inflammation due to their quality and handling, and often result in leaky gut. That horses experience intestinal inflammation is undeniable – gastric ulcers occur in 60% to 90% of performance horses, and they’re simply the tip of the iceberg. Inflamed intestines have poor/leaky filtering ability – a condition called leaky gut or dysbiosis.

Feeding inflammatory feeds/by-products does not help a horse’s intestines to heal. Instead, free access to pasture along with whole food-based feeds will make great strides toward improving his intestinal health. Not all horse owners have access to fresh pasture, so the highest quality ingredients for both hay and feed are even more important for good intestinal health, and for reducing allergic inflammation.

Step two: detoxification

The second step in aiding the allergic horse is to cleanse the liver. It is common knowledge that horses do not have gallbladders; however, they do have bile-producing ability and their liver functions the same as in many other species.

In fact, the liver has seven major detoxification pathways. An overwhelmed liver cannot detoxify the body; toxic substances give false signals to the immune system causing some branches to be hypervigilant and others to under-function. The resultant imbalance can lead to allergic conditions. These are often horses whose allergies do not develop until they’re older.

The most common way to detoxify the liver is through use of herbals and nutritional supplements. While milk thistle is best known, there are other great detoxifiers. Dandelion, beets, Indian barberry and andrographis are several commonly-used liver detoxification herbs.

Dandelion, beets, Indian barberry and andrographis are several commonly-used liver detoxification herbs.

An important focus of liver detoxification should include the elimination of heavy metal buildup. Our equine friends are terribly over-vaccinated, and this leads to greater exposure to heavy metals. That’s because the vaccine adjuvants, immune system stimulants, often contain mercury as well as other toxic chemicals. Other heavy metal exposures include water sources, environmental chemicals and more.

Homeopathic remedies (Aurum and Veratrum are two examples) and charcoalized bamboo are great ways to detoxify a horse’s liver. Traditionally, intravenous EDTA has been used by allopathic veterinarians to remove lead and similar metals from horses. DMSA is a similar, over-the-counter supplement, and may also be helpful. Don’t forget to cleanse the lymphatics once the metals are mobilized out of the fat. An herbalist or integrative veterinarian would be a good person to consult when performing heavy metal detoxification with an allergic horse; surprisingly, horse doses for herbal supplements are not very different from those for humans.

Step three: chiropractic for physical well-being

The third treatment modality for addressing the allergic horse is, surprisingly, chiropractic. It may seem illogical at first glance; however, chiropractic adjustment of the spine results in functional improvement in four body systems – the immune, emotional, musculoskeletal and internal organ systems.

It’s easy to see the correlation between chiropractic care and improvement in the musculoskeletal system. But what most people don’t realize, unless they experience it firsthand in their own well-adjusted horses, is that because the brain and central nervous system are well-balanced after good chiropractic care, the entire horse functions better. This improved function is noticed through better emotional, immune and internal organ health.

Using a holistic approach by changing your horse’s feed, reducing his vaccine load, detoxifying his liver, and having him adjusted with chiropractic will go a long way towards getting rid of his allergies.

Leaky gut

A leaky gut allows for the absorption of substances that should not be absorbed (pollens and other allergens) while interfering with the absorption of necessary nutrients. The pollens and other allergens immediately enter the bloodstream and are filtered through the GALT (gut-associated lymphoid tissue), the largest immune organ in the body. Intestinal presentation of allergens to the GALT results in systemic allergies that may manifest as symptoms anywhere in the body, including the skin, lungs, intestines or elsewhere.

Equine allergies from a TCVM perspective

TCVM (Traditional Chinese Veterinary Medicine) eloquently ties seemingly disparate allergic symptoms together. The skin is nourished by the Lung. The Large Intestine is the husband of the Lung in TCVM, and is responsible for “taking out the trash”. Through this beautiful interrelationship of organ systems, TCVM has linked together the different clinical presentations of the allergic patient; asthma, hives and intestinal symptoms link together under the rules of TCVM.

Acupuncture can be used to treat the Lung meridian, directly or indirectly, by treating its parent, the Heart. In practical application, we can see that the Heart controls the Lung. For example, many red horses have a Fire personality, a manifestation of the Heart, and red horses tend to experience hives more than any other color of horse. A properly balanced Heart will balance/control the Lung and Large Intestine.

This simple and direct approach works in a few cases, but we often find a more complex interrelationship with the other organs of the body – regardless of whether we are looking at equine allergies from a TCVM perspective or simply a holistic view.