South Shore Equine Clinic & Diagnostic Center
Equine Veterinary Services South Shore Boston Massachusetts

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Bits & Pieces: August 2009

Bugs, Bumps and Itchy Horses


Eastern Equine Encephalitis & West Nile Virus Encephalitis

Bugs, Bumps and Itchy Horses: The Frustrations of Summer Allergies

Allergies in horses are one of the most frustrating disorders to manage for both owners and veterinarians. An allergy is defined as a heightened immune reaction to environmental substances, such as pollen, molds, dusts, insect bites or foods. Many allergies in horses manifest as skin conditions and can be agonizing for you and your horse.

Signs of allergies in many horses appear with the change of seasons, especially the arrival of summer, and may become progressively worse each year. Hives (urticaria) are recognized by the sudden appearance of raised bumps in the skin, some of which might coalesce, or grow together, be itchy, lose hair, ooze serum and/or scab.  This type of skin lesion is a response to allergens that could be inhaled, ingested, or encountered in the environment.

 Many horses are allergic to insect bites (insect hypersensitivity). Several different clinical syndromes have been associated with insect hypersensitivity such as sweet itch, which is caused by Culicoides species (no-see-ums).   Signs include redness and large, flat, circular swellings or raised nodules with or without crusting.  Intense itching (pruritus) often leads to skin damage, hair loss, secondary infections, and thickened, wrinkled skin. 

Effective management strategies to reduce the number of bites your horse receives include:

  • Stabling during times of high insect activity (dawn and dusk)
  • Directing fans to the surface of the horse when stalled
  • Using long-acting insect repellents
  • Using fly masks and fly sheets
  • Distancing manure piles far from the stabling area
  • Fly predators

Often your veterinarian will prescribe systemic corticosteroids to lessen your horse’s overzealous response to the insulting allergen(s). Anti-histamines can also aid in preventing any further reactions. These treatments are generally successful for treating an individual allergic response. Often times, the clinical signs reoccur because there is continued exposure. At that point, we often recommend allergy testing.

Roughly 30% of all skin and respiratory problems can be attributed to allergies.  Allergy testing can detect the specific allergens that your horse is most sensitive to, whether it is insects, molds, plants, feeds or fabrics.  A small blood sample is submitted to a lab which will test your horse’s serum for sensitivity to a variety of allergens common to our region. 

Hyposensitization (allergy shots) is the safest and most effective option available for long term management of allergies.  A serum is formulated that contains micro amounts of the offending allergens of your horse. Increasing concentrations of this treatment (specifically prepared for your horse) are administered over a period of time to allow your horse’s immune system to develop a tolerance to its offending allergens. Often when initiating desensitization treatments your horse will be on concurrent corticosteroids or anti-histamines. Improvements in allergy symptoms generally appear three to five months into treatment with long term defense against allergens with no side effects.

Let us be an active partner in diagnosing and treating your horse’s allergies. Don’t let persistent itchiness and hives ruin your and your horse’s summer! 

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Concerned about the cost of horse ownership? SSEC accepts CareCredit as payment on any veterinary expense your horse may incur. CareCredit is a line of credit that offers flexible, low monthly payments, as low as 3% of your balance and there are no annual fees. Applying is easy, and can be done at our clinic, over the phone or online. Don’t let concern over bills interfere with the enjoyment  and care of your horses! Call SSEC for more information.

Click HERE for more information on CareCredit

Click HERE for the CareCredit website

Click HERE to apply for CareCredit


Eastern Equine Encephalitis (EEE) & West Nile Virus Encephalitis (WNV) your horse protected?

With the onset of a wet, humid summer, we have seen an outburst of mosquito populations all over the eastern seaboard.  Another contributor to the increasing mosquito burden is the 95% decrease in bat populations over this past winter due to a fungal infection termed “white-nose syndrome”. A single bat consumes approximately 1,000 mosquitoes each night; therefore, the declining bat population has lead to in an increase in mosquitoes. 

Eastern Equine Encephalitis (EEE) and West Nile Virus (WNV) are mosquito-borne arborviral diseases.  They both cause encephalitis, which means 'inflammation or swelling of the brain'.  Signs of infection typically include fever, lack of appetite, neurologic signs (staggering, lack of coordination, collapse).  Horses that become infected cannot transmit it to humans, or other horses.  In most cases, they do not survive the disease; however, if your horse has been properly vaccinated it will markedly reduce the severity of clinical signs and improve your horses chance for survival.  Just like people, all ages are susceptible to EEE and WNV. Those that are very young, old, or compromised by another condition are more likely to be affected.

While the state has sprayed the most severely affected areas, it is not enough to protect every horse 100%.  Infectious mosquitoes are still out there. In July, Mosquitoes carrying EEE and WNV were identified in Walpole and Freetown, MA, respectively. Numerous horse deaths due to infection with EEE have been reported in No.Carolina, Louisiana, Missouri, Florida, Texas and Virginia this year. We typically see cases in New England in the later summer months.

Proper vaccination is the best defense against both EEE and West Nile. There is a 99% mortality rate with non vaccinated horses that become infected. Spring and Fall are equally important times to vaccinate.  If your horse has not had his/her annual vaccine, schedule an appointment  today to ensure your horse is protected!

Ways to keep mosquito populations under control:

  • Remove all standing, stagnant water.  Tip over and clean water buckets at least twice a week using products that will kill mosquito larvae
  • Use appropriate repellants—they may help, but are not a cure-all
  • Keep horses in during peak mosquito hours - dawn and dusk
  • Keep lights off as much as possible, so as not to attract mosquitoes
  • Hang fans in stalls
  • Remove any birds/nests near the barn, including chickens. Birds act as a host and can contribute to the spread of the disease*

*Any and all dead birds should be reported to your local health department.

By following these guidelines, you will see a decrease in mosquito activity around your barn.  And with the vaccinations, even when you see them, you will know that your horse is protected.

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