What are hives and what do I do about them if my horse gets them?


Hives, officially called urticaria, are raised bumps on your horse.  They typically are head and neck, but some progress all over the body. Hives can run the full spectrum of mild, non-itchy, and no big deal all the way to severe, super itchy, life threatening, or any place in between.  There is a level of discomfort that can be experienced with hives as well.  Remember that your hores's skin is part of his immune system - so keeping his skin healthy and naturally oily migh help keep the triggers at bay. Most hives are caused by some sort of allergic reaction, perhaps from one of these sources:


  • Food
  • Pasture
  • Weeds
  • Medications
  • Vaccinations
  • Pollen
  • Molds/mildews
  • Insects
  • Bedding
  • Topical ointments and sprays
  • Grooming products
  • Laundry detergents



Hives are formed when the underlying blood vessels are inflamed because of some allergen, the trigger.  The vessels start to leak fluid from the blood stream into the areas just below the skin.  Some hives are also related to the digestive system of your horse.  For the most part, hives are something that your horse can easily recover from, although in rare cases, hives can interfere with breathing.  It’s always a good idea to involve your Veterinarian if you horse shows up with hives.  


Your horse may be allergic to something in his world - bugs, grasses, weeds, food, air, the universe. 


There are some different ways to try and narrow down the source of your horse’s hives, it’s up to you and your Veterinarian to work this out.  Blood tests to check for allergies are questionable at best, and some Veterinarians prefer to use skin tests to check for possible allergens.  You can also try and figure things out by eliminating possible sources of irritation.  



If you go the elimination route, be sure to go step by step so that you can be sure about what the trigger is.  In some cases, the source is obvious, it’s the new spray or new feed or something that is different from every other day your horse has had.  However - know that some allergic reactions develop over time, so a seemingly routine part of your horse’s life may have reached the tipping point and now he’s a hot mess of hives. 


Bloodwork may be able to help your Vet determine what is the source of your horse's hives. 


Your Veterinarian can ultimately give you a treatment plan, which may or may not include anti-inflammatory medications and/or anti-histamines.  You may also find that a cool shower soothes some of the hives, or perhaps your horse really wants a little scratch.  Avoid riding a horse with hives.  They already feel bad, and tack may irritate the hives even more.  



Once you have a treatment plan and a good idea of the source, you can alter your horse’s lifestyle to avoid future outbreaks.