Approach to the pruritic horse

Stephen D. White School of Veterinary Medicine, University of California-Davis, Davis, CA

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Abstract

Pruritus in the horse may be due to several causes, the most common being a hypersensitivity response to salivary proteins in the Culicoides genera, which may coexist with atopic dermatitis, also known as an environmental allergy to pollens, molds, dust, storage mites, etc. Less common etiologies are food allergy and contact allergy, the latter often caused by owners applying various products to the skin. Other ectoparasites, such as Chorioptes mites, may also initiate pruritus. Secondary bacterial infections (usually Staphylococcus spp) may be pruritic in and of themselves.

This article reviews the questions that need to be asked of owners to obtain a relevant history, always important for any organ system, but perhaps none more so than the skin. The various clinical findings such as alopecia and crusts and their location on the horse, diagnostic methods such as intradermal or serum testing for allergies, and subsequent hyposensitization are also discussed. Therapeutic options currently available for the potential underlying diseases, in particular for the hypersensitivity reactions to Culicoides spp or environmental allergens, are reviewed with the studies of hyposensitization over the last 40 years, as well as medications that may be effective.

While the most common causes of pruritus in the horse are known, the current understanding of the pathophysiology still needs to be investigated, and consequently, the most effective treatments for those causes need to be improved. Newer research is discussed that may eventually add to the diagnostic and therapeutic options currently available for the pruritic horse.

Abstract

Pruritus in the horse may be due to several causes, the most common being a hypersensitivity response to salivary proteins in the Culicoides genera, which may coexist with atopic dermatitis, also known as an environmental allergy to pollens, molds, dust, storage mites, etc. Less common etiologies are food allergy and contact allergy, the latter often caused by owners applying various products to the skin. Other ectoparasites, such as Chorioptes mites, may also initiate pruritus. Secondary bacterial infections (usually Staphylococcus spp) may be pruritic in and of themselves.

This article reviews the questions that need to be asked of owners to obtain a relevant history, always important for any organ system, but perhaps none more so than the skin. The various clinical findings such as alopecia and crusts and their location on the horse, diagnostic methods such as intradermal or serum testing for allergies, and subsequent hyposensitization are also discussed. Therapeutic options currently available for the potential underlying diseases, in particular for the hypersensitivity reactions to Culicoides spp or environmental allergens, are reviewed with the studies of hyposensitization over the last 40 years, as well as medications that may be effective.

While the most common causes of pruritus in the horse are known, the current understanding of the pathophysiology still needs to be investigated, and consequently, the most effective treatments for those causes need to be improved. Newer research is discussed that may eventually add to the diagnostic and therapeutic options currently available for the pruritic horse.

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