Can horses get hay fever?

Horses are able to contract hay fever-like symptoms

During the Spring and Summer times, many people will suffer from hay fever – making their eyes itch, noses run, and generally knock the energy out of them. Although it is somewhat different, horses are able to contract hay fever-like symptoms during these seasons. Although it is similar to hay fever, it is often referred to as Allergic Respiratory Disease when it occurs in horses.

How do horses get hay fever?

Hay fever is caused by people having allergic reactions to the pollen in the air, which is released from grass, plants, and trees in the billions during the spring and summer months. Pollen particles are intended to fertilise other plants, however, they are often inhaled by humans and animals with many triggering allergic reactions.

The way a horse’s nasal cavity is structured is to prevent anything from entering by acting as an air filter. There are long hairs in the nose that will trap any particles coming in through the airway, however as there is an abundance of pollen in the spring and summer, these can build up and cause problems for susceptible horses. The pollen triggers an allergic reaction which can lead to blood vessels dilating and then inflammation.


Pollen allergies (hay fever) are very common in horses, most often seen in young and old ones. Unlike humans, horses that are allergic to pollen will often show symptoms that are more similar to that of the flu – not like the symptoms we get that are more related to the sinus and nasal areas.

In most cases, the horse’s lungs will become inflamed which can make them more susceptible to viral and bacterial infections. Other common symptoms include:

  • Coughing
  • Head shaking
  • Lethargy
  • Lack of concentration
  • Poor performance
  • Behavioural problems
  • Increased eye discharge

Treatment and prevention

When it comes to prevention and treatments, you may be able to determine which type of pollen affects your horse – allowing you to avoid that pollen as much as possible. Some pollen will come out stronger at different times of the year, making it easier to determine the problem.

Other ways to manage this respiratory problem are using items such as pollen nets or face masks to help ease the coughing, head shaking and nose itching. On days where the pollen count is extreme, consider not taking your horse out or go near the offending pollen. It may also be a good idea to stable your horse during the day and turning them out at night to avoid any increased exposure.

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