Scratch That Itch

Allergies. Not mine, which I’m lucky enough to not have, but Aria’s. I’ve mentioned it before on my blog but I’ve never really elaborated on what a pain in the ass it really is. I will even go on record saying that I will never own another horse as high maintenance as her. She is one in a million, truly.

The general rule of thumb is that allergies never come in singles. I learned this from a doctor and when Aria started to rub herself raw and look like a plague victim because of the flies, I knew I needed to call my vet. At the time I was browsing several Facebook equine groups daily and had read many posts asking for fly solutions that often had someone mention allergy testing. When I asked my vet about doing an allergy test, she said she hadn’t done one before but thought it was a good idea and would be more than happy to find a facility to ship the blood sample to.

Red weeping eyes from flies and dust.

The allergy test is fairly simple and there are two methods now for testing. The one I did was to draw blood and send it off to lab to be tested. The other method is, like humans, to test potential allergens directly on the skin. There is some discussion on the accuracy of testing blood and I tend to agree that the second method will produce better results but shaving a huge portion of my horse and having drops of allergens pricked (scraping the surface of the skin) onto them seems like a special kind of hell for an already itchy and sensitive horse.

Chewed up legs from flies and scratching teeth.

It’s also a very cheap test comparatively. My vet used Spectrum Labs. Two weeks later I had a packet with information about Aria and her allergy therapy program. I also received three color coded vials that were meant to last me a year as I went through the various stages of the program. Initially it was a lot of shots. It started 0.01cc every 3 days, then 0.03cc every 5 days, on to 0.05cc every 10 days. So on and so forth until I was giving 1cc every 30 days which is the maintenance mode.


Sorry, not going to share my vials because it has all my info on it! 😀

On top of the shots you also get a print out with all the allergens they tested and which will be in the vial of serum, minus the food allergens of course. It gives a great overview of what to keep away from your sensitive snowflake. I found out that Aria was allergic to everything I was feeding her.

To begin with I moved Aria to timothy hay because she scored lowest in Pasture (mix). I had her on it for about 10 months and during training to make sure she was getting a good quality hay all year round. Recently though I’ve moved her to bermuda because she wastes less and eats more (she’s got a layer of fat to prove it), leading me to believe she didn’t really like timothy all that much. Fine by me baby horse, my wallet thanks you!

Flies and rubbing making her look moth eaten.

In some cases there isn’t much I can do to keep her away for her allergens. Barn dust will always be around. Certain weeds and trees are out of my control. Luckily shavings out here are all pine but I am a little sad that I can’t use Cedar Rest anywhere on the property. Even though her test says she can tolerate cedar shavings she scored a very high 375 for Juniper/Cedar. I’d rather be safe than sorry.

I have a hell of a time finding grain she can eat when 98% of feeds are based on alfalfa or wheat. Nutrena Empower Boost is a rice bran based feed that has been working really well for her so far. Bonus: it smells amazing. I do enjoy breaking feed rep’s brains when I I ask if they have a feed that accommodates Aria’s allergies. Acceptable horse treats are a bit easier to find. Beet Treats are wonderful and the local feed store chain, Kahoot’s, has a horse cookie made of smelt flour which she doesn’t appear to be allergic to. They double as a good human cookie too.

Her shoulders and chest used to look much worse than this.

Nothing is better than going into the feed store and asking for feeds that exclude XYZ and then following up with ‘my horse has allergies’ and getting That Look from people. I’ve pretty much come to embrace how ridiculous it sounds and actually try to use as many millennial buzzwords as I can now. Aria is gluten intolerant and bermudaterian. We all get a laugh.

The one responsible thing I did after receiving the allergy test results was to ask the feed store if they had any medical alert dog tags. The associate was very excited because they did but had never made them before. Aria has a dog tag with the medical alert symbol on her halter that says “I HAVE ALLERGIES. NO ALFALFA. BERMUDA ONLY.” and my contact info. With all the fires we get every year, I think taking a couple precautionary steps is a good idea in the event she is evacuated when I am not available.

The final downfall of allergies is all the scratching can cause injury and leave scars.

I do think the allergy therapy has helped immensely. The pictures here are not even half as bad as she used to look. I can tell when the 30 day mark is rolling around though because Aria will flare up to fly bites (these were taken on shot day). They recommend getting retested to improve results and I think I will because now we have a new baseline. I just have to figure out when is the best time seasonally. Overall the cost for her comfort is relatively low, a couple hundred bucks for the year. I still have to practice good manure and fly management (I should buy stock in Cashel and Pyranha) but now I only have to load her up with Benadryl a couple times a year when the flies are at their worst.

12 thoughts on “Scratch That Itch

    • Sometimes the logistics are such that I just have to say ‘f**k it’ and let her get attacked by flies. I dream of an automatic fly spray system one day so the princess can be comfortable like she deserves. She’s worth the money!


      • I wonder if you could get one of those mister fans and use super diluted fly spray? We have this little plastic box in the barn that releases a burst of fly spray concentrate every 15 minutes. It’s not super expensive — although I also don’t know that it really helps keep flies down in the barn, either, haha.


    • Oh wow. Your test numbers are so different from mine even though it’s the same company. 200 is the ‘allergen’ threshold for your test? Airborne would be awful in my climate. Aria also lives in a flymask. Day, night, and winter. If there are flies, she’s masked. Except she always takes it off!! Lol


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