Itchy Horse?

If you own horse for long enough, you will know from time to time you encounter a very ‘itchy’ horse. No matter what lotion or potion you use, you can never seem to help them relieve the ‘itch’.

We know there are a plethora of reasons for an ‘itchy’ horse – most of what can be diagnosed just by having a clinical exam. However, it may be necessary to take some samples to try and find the cause of the problem. I have listed my approach to the ‘itchy’ horse and what samples can help me find the cause. Although I am very aware that even if I follow this protocol ‘to the letter’, I may not find the answer – therefore we now have an alternative! (read on)…..

My approach to the 'itchy horse'

  • Primarily a thorough clinical examination needs to be done, in addition to:
    • Full clinical history, also taking into account yard husbandry and whether any other individuals are affected
    • Discussion about diet
  • Secondarily the following samples could be taken to isolate a cause:
    • “Grooming” samples taken with tooth brush
    • Hair samples / plucks
    • Skin scraping
      • Both superficial and deep scraping, in conjunction with hair samples
    • Swabs
      • For both fungal , bacterial or even viral culture
    • Acetate / Clear Tape samples, especially useful for pinworms!
    • Tissue biopsy – several types / forms can be used:
      • Shave biopsy
      • Punch biopsy
      • Wedge biopsy
      • Excisional biopsy
    • Fine Needle Aspirates
      • A small sample taken with a needle and then looked at under a microscope

The vast majority of cases are solved by this point, however……

Beyond the average horse - Allergies

Horse Scratching

Sometimes I am confronted with a horse that has no obvious apparent cause for itching / scratching, coupled with negative laboratory tests and no significant response to symptomatic treatment. These cases are not very common, however they do happen. So where do I go from here?

My first thoughts are that there could be an allergic component to the problem. Exclusion diets and environmental stimulation tests may all be used, however we now have a new test available to us.

Commonly when it came to allergic skin diseases we often had to resort to intradermal skin testing, in which small amounts of material were injected under the horse skin to see what they were allergic to. This could take time to organise and posed an issue with some horses. Now this is all available in a blood test!

Call the practice to discuss allergy testing

Avacta Animal Health - Allergy testing

Avacta Animal Health

Allergy testing:

We are now offering allergy testing for horses through Avacta Animal Health. You can download their guide to allergy testing in horses by clicking the image.

The testing process is simple – 1 visit, 1 blood test. As shown within their brochure there are different panels which can be screened for:

  • Food types – from cereals to beans and many in-between!
  • Insects – mites, lice and flies
  • Grass pollens
  • Weed pollens
  • Tree pollens

We can discuss what panels we think are appropriate by having a discussion about the potential causes and what we have ‘ruled out’ so far.

Using the information from the test we can help to eliminate the cause through diet or management changes. Alternatively Avacta also offer immunotherapy as a direct result of the test – enabling us to offer a custom injection for your horse to de-sensitise them to the cause of the allergy. The whole process is quick, easy and your horse does not have to go anywhere to get it all done!

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