'Healthy Happy Horses, Naturally' with Catherine Bird

Posts tagged ‘allergies’

Natural support for allergies and skin conditions

get-itch-outZelda, and eight-year-old Arabian, had a beautiful coat when Barbara acquired the mare late in the fall. However, as summer arrived and temperatures began to rise, Zelda broke out in hives. The poor horse itched so badly she rubbed herself raw. Barbara suspected Zelda’s skin problems were due to allergies but when she phoned her local practitioner about getting help, she could almost hear him cringing on the other end of the line. “I knew then that I had my work cut out for me,” she said.

While more horses than ever before suffer from allergies, there is no one shot cure that takes care of the problem. Each case is so individual and what works on one horse may have no benefit to the next. As you consider the information I have to offer here, please remember that if one approach does not work for you, do not give up on your horse. Allergies and skin conditions are multi-layered and, although it may appear your approach is not working sometimes, your horse’s body may just be peeling away at an invisible layer, enabling your next level of treatment to be more effective.

What is an allergy?

The Taber’s Cyclopedic Medical Dictionary defines an allergy as “an acquired hypersensitivity to a substance (allergen) that does not normally cause a reaction. It is essentially a disorder of the immune system resulting in an antibody-antigen reaction; manifestations most commonly involve the respiratory tract or the skin.”

An allergen can include pollen, dust, feathers, drugs, insect bites and feedstuffs, so your first priority is to eliminate what you suspect may be causing your horse’s allergy. If the allergens cannot be avoided, your veterinarian may suggest antihistamines or corticosteroids. These can provide temporary relief, but in the long term you do need to address your horse’s immune and elimination systems. Natural therapies can help you with this process.

Herbs for the inside and outside

Your horse’s first line of defence is the liver, so any protocol should include supporting this gland. If you believe there is a toxicity or poison present in the body, you’ll want to help the liver detoxify using my two favorite herbs, milk thistle (Silybum marianum) and rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis)*. Milk thistle seed helps cleanse the liver, assists with the regeneration of liver cells and protects these cells against the action of liver poisons. Add rosemary in the next phase of treatment as it is a complete herbal antioxidant, a secondary liver cleanser and also hepatoprotective. The powdered forms of these herbs are commonly used.

From a naturopathic perspective, most skin issues reflect an inhibition or dysfunction of one of the other major elimination organs. Look at the liver first, but also consider the kidneys, digestive system and respiratory tract.

If there are breathing difficulties or the presence of catarrh, your horse could benefit from supporting his immune system. My preferred species is Echinacea angustifolia in either its powdered root or liquid extract form. I find I can give these forms long term effectively, whereas the dried leaf does not seem to maintain its potency or efficacy as well and is better suited to short term use.

As your horse’s body begins to detoxify with the liver herbs, Echinacea can fight off secondary infections and help your horse rebuild her immune defences to the allergens. In addition, since Echinacea is traditionally used as a blood cleanser and purifier, it supports the milk thistle and rosemary. These three really make a great team.

*Rosemary should not be given to pregnant mares.

Internal systems are interconnected

Any issues with the lungs lead us to the digestive system. If your horse has a runny nose or gluggy ears in response to the allergens, it could indicate an internal reaction to feedstuffs. My favourite herb to address this with is marshmallow root (Althaea officinalis) and I prefer the powdered herb in this situation. In severe cases, paste your horse with one or two tablespoons of herb mixed with water before feeding (use a syringe) or, in milder cases, simply mix it into a wet feed. By addressing the gut in this way, you will soothe the mucosal layer of the digestive tract, which in turn will alleviate the clinical symptoms – the dry and pruritic skin conditions.

Could it be his kidneys? 
If your horse’s urine is irregular, his sweat patterns vary, or your horse has sensitive ears, you may find his allergic conditions respond well to flushing the kidneys. A gentle yet very potent approach to this is adding some freshly picked parsley (Petroselinum crispum) – a nice handful each day – to his feed for about a month. You can use the dried leaf as well; in this case usually one or two heaped tablespoons are sufficient. Parsley also calms the nervous system and serves as a carminative (relieves gas) and digestive tonic, supporting the use of marshmallow root.

You may observe as I work through the body’s elimination processes, that the herbs I select overlap in their functions across each of these body systems. So, as you assist your horse through the various stages of his “line of cure”, your emphasis may shift between any of these systems. You can vary and substitute herbs to further individualize your approach; any bitters including burdock or dandelion root will replace my liver suggestions; immune support such as astragalus or olive leaf could continue on from Echinacea; slippery elm or plantain could address the gut, and mullein or elecampane may help the respiratory tract. Dandelion leaf serves as an easy substitute for parsley.

The emotional toll

If your horse has suffered from a chronic allergy condition, you may also need to address the nervous system. Allergies can really wear on the soul, and after a while most horses become agitated and short-tempered by the constant physical irritation. Again, parsley may assist here as it can be very calming to several body systems. You could also use any of the calming herbs such as sweet flag, lemon balm or chamomile for the same purpose.

Creams, oils and rinses

Topically, you have a wide selection of herbs and essential oils to choose from. I usually recommend calendula (Calendula officinalis), sometimes known as pot marigold, which is an effective local tissue healer when applied in a cream, balm or infused oil to itchy skin. You can also administer it internally to help the body’s inflammatory response come back into balance. Other herbs include aloe vera gel and a rinse made from chamomile flowers.

Tea tree (Melaleuca alternifolia) is antipruritic (anti itch), and when applied to a very small section ‘neat’ or diluted into a carrier such as aloe vera gel, this essential oil will take the itch out of most skin irritations. It is safely combined with lavender (Lavendula officinalis) which is cytophylactic (able to stimulate new cells) so the skin repairs quickly. Manuka (Leptospermum scoparlum), another essential oil very effective in healing the skin, has anti fungal and anti bacterial properties and works well with the other two essential oils.

Nutritional support

Once your horse’s body has begun the process of elimination, you can take the next step by supporting her nutritionally. Rosehips (Rosa canina), an inexpensive additive to any feed, is high in flavonoids which nourish the skin and assists our previous herbs with addressing mild infections and soothing gastric inflammation. Clivers or cleavers (Galium aparine) contains high amounts of silica to support the skin, and is a very effective lymphatic cleanser and remedy for skin eruptions, especially where associated with tissue oedema.

Essential oils and aromatherapy

We often think of massage when we talk about aromatherapy, but essential oils can help with allergies and skin problems too. If you are having difficulty in deciding what approach to take with your horse, offer her a selection of essential oils to give you some insights as to where to start your protocol. At the same time, this approach will stimulate and tune up her endocrine system to help rebalance some of the issues that may be underlying the allergic conditions.

My first essential oil of choice is carrot seed (Daucus carota). The scent is an immune stimulator and can indicate if your horse’s digestive system needs addressing. If she shows an intense interest in the scent, your horse can safely lick this one from your hand. This can have a catalytic affect throughout the body to help trigger the liver into action. A horse that goes for this scent may have sluggish digestion, be burdened with worms or need support from liver herbs. This essential oil’s action is so strong, that I check too see if the horse is still attracted to the scent 24 hours later. Often the initial scent and taste will be enough for the body to adjust and restore its own homeostasis.

Addressing your own emotions with Bach flowers and tissue salts

It’s possible that irritating issues in your own life may be contributing energetically to your horse’s condition. Clearing these emotions will most certainly help you but may also help your horse to heal. To this end, I like to include simple flower essences such as the Bach flower essence, Crabapple.

To support this approach, I also include the use of biochemic tissue salts. Kali Sulph (Potassium Sulphate) is a skin nutrient, and is well supported by Silica. If there is a nervous component I may include Kali Phos (Potassium Phosphate), or if my focus herbally is that of cleansing the body, Calc Sulph (Calcium Sulphate).

There are 12 tissue salts in this therapy that follow basic homeopathic principles and each may be employed at various stages throughout dealing with allergies and skin issues. An experienced homeopath could certainly guide you here.

As Barbara discovered when she started working with Zelda, addressing allergies and skin conditions takes a personal approach. Depending on your horse’s condition, it can be simple or be multi-layered. When it’s multi-layered, the key to your success is patience and a keen observance so you know when the next layer of the issue is available for healing. Hopefully, I’ve provided some direction to follow if your horse is unfortunate enough to be inflicted with allergies or skin conditions.

HINT: Another indicator that your horse’s stomach may need assistance is if the flies aggregate around his eyes. In Chinese medicine, the eyes are closely linked to the stomach.

HINT: Add carrot seed essential oil to your calendula cream to give it that little extra range of healing. If I suspect the horse needs further detoxification, I will offer her the scent of juniperberry (Juniperus communis). Juniper will indicate the need to cleanse; it supports the elimination of any toxic build-up and indicates if the horse needs assistance with liver herbs.

 

By: Catherine Bird

First Published in: Equine Wellness Magazine Vol. 1 Issue 1 (pic from their edition)

 

Summer relief

As the weather warms and we thaw out from the winter cold, your horse’s body can be sensitive to their environment. With our weather becoming more extreme it can be hostile to horses.

Herbs can support and strengthen your horse’s body from invasion, making it more difficult for the body’s protective barrier to be compromised.

By addressing the internal health of the horse you will have more success in dealing with this Summer’s allergies and common discomforts such as itch, photosensitivity, headshaking, and annoying bugs.

Relief

With many of these conditions, the herbs a herbalist may suggestion for each condition may cross over and cover other Summer conditions. This helps keep your selection of support to a focused minimum, and address conditions that may be linked.

A Summer herbal dispensary could include these herbs:

Burdock root, calendula flowers, cleavers, echinacea, eyebright, garlic, lemon balm, licorice root, lime tree blossom, marshmallow root, mullein, nettle, rosehips, wood betony, yarrow.

Which herbs to use?

When you first start selecting herbs for your horse, it can be difficult to narrow down the choice. People often think more is better, when two or three herbs will cover off on most of the clinical signs your horse is presenting. If your selection is kept to five herbs or less, you are more likely to achieve a result. It means you have enough of each herb to have them activate in the body. If you select more than five herbs to give your horse at one time, you can be dispersing the properties and in doing so not achieving the relief you are looking for. Look more closely at your selection and see which of your selected herbs is duplicating another herb’s action, giving only one of these duplicated herbs can be enough. Because ‘healing’ is a dynamic process, you can always substitute those other herbs as you see how your horse responds.

How much to give?

For the purpose of this article I am focusing on dried herbs, they are easier for the horse owner to obtain and most easily added to a feed. If you are giving five or less herbs, then the amount of each herb you are giving is most likely to be 1 to 2 tablespoons daily. This will vary with some herbs and some conditions, so use this as a general guide. If you end up selecting only one herb, give up to 1 cup daily. Any more and your horse will not be utilising all that you give, and your money is being wasted.

 

Thinking through your approach

Using herbs is a creative process. You can work through each of your horse’s clinical signs individually and see what herbs address each of these symptoms and where the actions of the herbs overlap. However, when you do this, do not limit yourself to the immediate signs, to be truly effective you need to consider the ‘whole’ horse. Sometimes the key element that helps trigger the healing process is not necessarily the herb you have chosen to heal inflamed skin, it may be the herb that helps the horse’s distress at being uncomfortable.

Itch

Henry at Ferrell Hollow Horse Sanctuary 'scratching his itch'

Henry at Ferrell Hollow Farm Senior Horse Sanctuary ‘scratching his itch’

 

A veterinarian may suggest an antihistamine to help your horse’s own inflammatory response. Calendula flowers have a histamine-like action which can be used for this sort of body condition. If your horse develops hives or hot spots with his itch, then nettles could be the herb you choose. If he wants to be left alone, settle his nerves with vervain.

This may be enough to start with, and apart for the reason they were initially selected, the calendula flowers will cleanse the skin via the lymphatic system; the nettles will strengthen the circulatory system and supports several glands within the body; vervain is a gentle liver and kidney cleanses tuning up these organs so they can better support the skin while his nervous system is settled by vervain’s nervine properties.

This way you are addressing the whole horse!

Photosensitivity

This is where your clinical signs and herb selection begin to overlap. Calendula is again a good herb to chose but this time supported with cleavers to emphasise the cleansing of the lymphatic system, especially if greasy heal is one aspect. This time you may want to support the liver and if the skin is also itchy, burdock root could be your next herb as it cleanses the blood and with its very bitter element wakes the liver up, and the liver can often be linked to photosensitivity.

Headshaking

Headshaking may be associated with an allergy or another aspect of the horse’s photosensitivity. If your horse has photosensitivity and you have read the previous article and decided on those herbs fit your horse, then wood betony may be the fourth herb you use with this horse. Wood betony has nervine properties that help relax tension held in the head and poll. Wood betony can also be selected for allergies which now links us into allergies.

Allergies

Allergies can many and varied and this is where your own insights of your own horse become the key to selecting what herbs to use. They may be a separate entity in themselves, or also be an expression of one of the previous issues. The intricacies of allergies they can be difficult to resolve, so you adapt your approach as you address each aspect with patience and thoughtfulness.

If your horse suffers from runny, watery eyes in Summer. Eyebright is astringent and also has an antibiotic-like action to help cleanse the eye. Eye problems can often be linked to digestion. You may have selected calendula for its histamine-like action, and in doing so it will be astringent and cleansing to the gut.

A cough may be the primary sign of an allergy with your horse, so then demulcent herbs such as marshmallow root powder may be the key herb you select and then with how your ‘whole’ horse determine what herbs you use to support. If your horse is stressed with coughing, lime tree blossom or lemon balm address upper respiratory inflammation and settle distress. Then you may add rosehips, although not noted as a liver herb, rosehip’s vitamin C content nudges the liver’s defences to help with inflammatory responses in the body, and is then a tonic to tissue that is healing.

Bugs

Summer wakes all creatures, and bugs are no exception. The saliva from their bites may be what your horse is allergic to, or they may simply irritate a watery eye. The person who develops a long term effective bug repellent will be the richest person on the planet.

Meanwhile, you can make your horse less tasty to bugs. If you have kept your selection of herbs above low, there is room to add one of these suggestions.

The sulphur in garlic is what repels the bugs when they get a whiff of it coming through the skin. If your horse is in strenuous work, needs medications, or has a sensitive stomach this may not be the best herb to give.

Brewers yeast is an alternate, being high in vitamin B. The theory being, if a body is low or deficient in vitamin B, their blood chemistry is more attractive to bugs that bite. Brewers yeast can also be good for the horse who needs his nervous system settled because to the vitamin B content.

Keep it simple

Keep your approach simple and stay focused so that you are responsive to the dynamic of the healing processes your horse’s body is working through. As you help your horse, your knowledge will grow.

 

First published Natural Horse Magazine 2014

Allergy thoughts

Allergies need a layered approach

Hopefully your horse is not allergic to other valued pets (thanks to the Country Park client for this pic)
horse herbs allergy help

With the seasons not following their usual trend, the incidents of allergies seems to be rising on both sides of the equator.

Identify and Eliminate
If the trigger is environmental it may be hard to eliminate. If your horse is sensitive to one of the components in the feed – eliminate those which could be the trigger. It will vary with each horse and sometimes going down to a basic diet and then rebuilding one part at a time can help too.

Reactions to your emotions
Some of your horse’s reactions can be to the emotions you are generating around you What I often find is allergy reactions in a horse may be because the owner is easily affected or irritated by others. It is worth looking at your own life and see what is affecting your emotional health if herbs don’t help your horse.

Herbs to help
If it is some kind of inflammatory response – try calendula or eyebright.
Puffiness or the lymphatic system needing a gentle flush – clivers.
Rosehips are a good tonic to boost defence against most allergic responses.
Help your horse’s liver along with herbs like st marys thistle or burdock depending on how the allergy manifests.

Last but not least – Keep at it – allergies can be multi layered and it may take time to work through each layer of the issues.