Skin Allergies in Horses 1-Homeopathy & Topicals

Posted by Joyce Harman, DVM on Jul 29th 2022

Skin Allergies in Horses 1-Homeopathy & Topicals

For horses with severe allergies, those who rub themselves raw for many months, a natural approach usually gives the most long lasting support.

Equine skin diseases are a significant problem in many parts of the country, especially those with warm and humid summers. In the southern United States, many forms of skin disease continue through the winter, while the northern climates get a break from some conditions in the colder weather.

Treatment can be frustrating from a conventional perspective as the drug selection is limited. If the commonly used drugs fail, there are not many other choices. Complementary medicine offers the most choices, and if one modality fails to help the horse, there are usually many options. Even then, some cases can be very difficult to treat, so do not get discouraged, just try another modality.

Allergens can penetrate the body by direct contact, through breathing (as in airborne pollen), or by ingestion of food. Allergic responses can severely impair a horse’s performance, cause discomfort and strange symptoms, and scare us as caretakers. A knee-jerk reaction may be to turn to steroids. The side effects of steroids (both long- and short-term) encourages us to consider some alternatives.

Itching skin!

The most common skin cases are allergic, itchy horses in the summer time. The reactions can be mild to severe ranging from itching without eruptions to raw, bloody skin lesions.

Many factors can be involved, including pollens, foods, Culicoides mites, topical reactions to weeds, reactions to shampoos and detergents in saddle pads; dust, molds and more. Allergy testing can be done, using skin tests for inhalant allergens, blood tests for inhalant and saliva tests for food allergens. 

However, it is impossible to remove many airborne allergens from their environment. It is often much easier to change the terrain (ie the horse’s immune system) than it is to change the environment.

A good history, with information about the onset of the symptoms can help determine the basic type of allergen (ex: tree pollen in the early spring, ragweed in late summer). With food allergens, it may be hard to determine without some form of allergy or elimination test.

Treatment conventionally is done with corticosteroids or antihistamines, as well as some of the human or small animal drugs. If the skin has significant lesions, antibiotics may be used to prevent secondary infections. Steroids do have some considerable risk and are not suitable for long-term use, year after year. They can suppress the immune response so the horse is more susceptible to bacterial or viral infections. Many other side effects can occur.

The most severe complication with the use of steroids is in the horses with Insulin Resistance or Cushing's. Though in research settings, laminitis is not often seen, in clinical practice laminitis post steroid treatment is seen. I have seen a number of cases where even with a small dose, (as from a joint injection) life-threatening laminitis has occurred.

Homeopathy and other natural medicines offer many possible solutions to treating allergic skin disease. Simple cases may respond quickly to a single type of treatment, but difficult or long-standing cases may require the help of a well trained homeopathic vet.

Most itchy allergic skin horses will improve with high levels of Omega 3 fatty acids, in the form of flax, hemp or chia seeds, either as an oil or in the seed form. Most horses itching from allergies will improve significantly with fatty acid supplementation. Flax and hemp oil can be supplemented at a rate of 2-4 oz per day, or whole seeds flax, hemp and chia seeds can be fed at 2-8 oz per day. Naturally stabilized ground seeds can be used, but if not stabilized, will oxidize as soon as they are ground.

Overweight animals can have reduced immune system function so improving the immune system is important  Omega 3 Fatty acids support and regulate the immune system.


Simple bug bites, tick bites and stings respond well to homeopathic remedies. Bites and stings that feel better with a cold compress respond well to Ledum 30. Give 6-8 tabs once or twice a day for a few days. Itchy bites that feel better with warm water respond well to Rhus Tox 30, given on the same protocol. Bee stings that like cold compresses do well with Apis 30, and this also works well for hives. Tick bites often do well with Ledum.

Chronic itchy skin may need a more detailed approach with answers to such questions as: does it feel better with warm or cold, what season is worse, is the skin raw, bleeding, oozing or does it have no visible lesions? You would likely need a different remedy for each of these types.  A few examples: 

Apis. It can be used if the skin (especially with hives or swellings) feels better with cold water applied (a cold wash cloth).

Rhus tox works great for itching skin and hives that feel better with warm applications

Sulphur is often indicated for itching without lesions, itching worse with getting wet but also can be useful for horses that rub their skin raw and bleeding

Thuja can be very helpful if the horse has had a lot of vaccines, maybe worse in the spring

Arsenicum Alb is better with a nervous, organized horse with very itchy skin. One that keeps its stall tidy, can be fearful at times.

The best way to dose homeopathic remedies is to start with a 30C potency and give 6-8 pellets, once or twice a day for 1-3 or 4 days. For an acute case that starts suddenly, you might want to give the remedy for 3-4 days if you are seeing improvement. For chronic long-standing cases, wait a couple weeks before deciding if the remedy is working. After a few tries, if you don't see results, consult a trained homeopathic vet since giving too many remedies in a row can confuse the body and make it harder to treat in the future. 


Horses with mid-line dermatitis benefit from the flax, chia and hemp internally. Topically you can use salves such as Calendula, Noni, Aloe Vera, or plantain leaves in a base of lanolin or coconut oil.  These can help relieve the itch until the internal treatment restores the immune system.

You can soothe irritated skin conditions by washing the area with an oatmeal-based soap or a soap that is free of any harsh chemicals. Astringent products that contain witch hazel or strong black tea can be soothing and help to dry out bumps and weeping, oozing spots. If the skin is very raw, stay away from the astringents until the sores heal a bit. Chamomile tea can be very soothing even to raw skin.