Skin Allergies Alternatives to Dexamethasone


Hi, Looking for any other treatment options/suggestions for a pony with insect hypersensitivity (suffers sever allergies to insects, ie flys/ mosquitos/mites etc has hard raised lumps ie protein lumps and folliculitis through chest and trunk region) He is well rugged, washed in pyrohex shampoo, and use insecticide sprays twice daily in high insect season, have had him allergy tested to confirm his allergies. also currently have him on allergy vaccine injections created with a dermatologist to hopefully support in reducing hypersensitivity.
Previously to seeing an dermatologist regular vet prescribed dexamethasone IM injections for the raised lumps, which improved the lumps considerably but did lead to inflammation in the feet. He is a 4yr old 13.2 riding pony he never went into a full laminitis episode I monitored closely and only gave a low dose but noted increased heat and pulse in both front feet.
Wondering if anyone has had any alternative suggestions they have successfully used with similar issues.
thank you Morgan
Morgan - Western Australia - joined 2022

Cindy Q

Hello Morgan

Welcome to the group! 

1) Dr Kellon has recommended for skin allergies, (safe for IR or prone horses) to try chondroitin sulfate and/or spirulina:
Chondroitin: 2500 to 5000 mg per 500 lb, twice a day. You can read a "THM Special Report" PDF by Dr Kellon  found here: (also note the mention of pentosan injection as an option - good for joints and arthritis as well). 
Spirulina 1 oz by volume/scoop measure - about 20 grams by weight - 2 times a day for average size horse. (More reading if you would like details:

Some members have success with one or the other, some members use both together. As introducing powders, you should start gradually if your horse is a fussy eater till you get up to desired dose.

2) Please note that some members also report that tighter mineral balancing especially getting zinc and copper up to the right ratios with your hay also helps. You can read about this in our DIET section below. Good that your pony has not gotten into any acute laminitis episode. Following ECIR recommendations on diet if you have not gotten there yet would only help. In Australia, you can check out Carol Layton of for custom mineral balancing - she also sells some safe premixes based off averages (2nd to custom mineral balancing of course), as does Missy's Bucket in Australia. If you have questions, please post here as we have members located in Australia who can help you with sourcing/local advice as well.

I am sharing our official welcome letter below. It's a lot of information but great time for leisure reading is when you are not in a crisis, so kudos for getting ahead of the curve :):

The ECIR Group provides the best, most up to date information on Cushing's (PPID) and Equine Metabolic Syndrome (EMS)/Insulin Resistance (IR). Please explore our website where you'll find tons of great information that will help you to quickly understand the main things you need to know to start helping your horse. Also open any of the links below (in blue font) for more information/instructions that will save you time.

Have you started your Case History? If you haven't done so yet, please join our case history sub-group. We appreciate you following the uploading instructions so your folder is properly set up with the documents inside. Go to this CH message with info on how to use various devices and forms. If you have any trouble, just post a message to let us know where you are stuck.

Orienting information, such as how the different ECIR sections relate to each other, message etiquettewhat goes where and many how-to pages are in the Wiki. There is also an FAQs on our website that will help answer the most common and important questions new members have. 

Below is a general summary of our DDT/E philosophy which is short for Diagnosis, Diet, Trim and Exercise.


DIAGNOSIS: There are two conditions dealt with here: Cushings (PPID) and Equine Metabolic Syndrome (EMS)/Insulin Resistance (IR). These are two separate issues that share some overlapping symptoms. An equine may be either PPID or EMS/IR, neither or both. While increasing age is the greatest risk factor for developing PPID, IR can appear at any age and may have a genetic component. Blood work is used for diagnosis as well as monitoring the level of control of each.

PPID is diagnosed using the Endogenous ACTH test, while EMS/IR is diagnosed by testing non-fasting insulin and glucose.

The fat-derived hormone leptin is also usually abnormally elevated in insulin resistance but because there are many other things which can lower or increase leptin ECIR is not recommending routine testing for this hormone. Leptin is the hormone that says "stop eating".

In Europe, adiponectin is tested instead of leptin. Adiponectin helps regulate glucose and fat burning, and maintain insulin sensitivity. Low levels are associated with EMS. It has come to be preferred over leptin because it is not influenced by things like weight or exercise, and also because it was the only factor other than insulin levels that predicted laminitis risk

*Before calling your vet to draw blood for tests, we suggest saving time and wasted money by reading these details and then sharing them with your vet so that everyone is on the same page regarding correct testing and protocols.

*Please remember to request copies of the results of all the tests done rather than just relying on verbal information. Your vet should be able to email these to you. If you have previous test results, please include those as well. All should go in your CH, but if you are having any trouble with the CH, just post in the messages for now. 

Treatment: EMS is a metabolic type - not a disease - that is managed with a low sugar+starch diet and exercise (as able). The super-efficient easy keeper type breeds such as minis, ponies, Morgans, Arabs, Rockies are some of the classic examples. PPID is a progressive disease that is treated with the medication pergolide. Some, but not all, individuals may experience a temporary loss of appetite, lethargy and/or depression when first starting the medication. To avoid this "pergolide veil" (scroll down for side effects), we recommend weaning onto the drug slowly and the use of the product APF. The best long term results are seen when the ACTH is maintained in the middle of the normal range at all times, including during the annual seasonal rise. To accomplish this, the amount of medication may need to increase over time. Neither condition is ever "cured", only properly controlled for the remainder of the equine's life. If your partner is both PPID and IR then both medication and diet management will be needed. 

DIET: Almost all commercial feeds are not suitable - no matter what it says on the bag. Please see the International Safe Feeds List for the safest suggestions.

No hay is "safe" until proven so by chemical analysis. The diet that works for IR is:

  • low carb (less than 10% sugar+starch)
  • low fat (4% or less) 
  • mineral balanced  

We use grass hay, tested to be under 10% ESC + starch, with minerals added to balance the excesses and deficiencies in the hay, plus salt, and to replace the fragile ingredients that are lost when grass is cured into hay, we add ground flax seed and Vitamin E. This diet is crucial for an EMS/IR horse, but also supports the delicate immune system of a PPID horse. 

*Until you can get your hay tested and balanced we recommend that you soak your hay and use the emergency diet (scroll down for it).  The emergency diet is not intended for long term use, but addresses some of the most common major deficiencies. Testing your hay and getting the minerals balanced to its excesses and deficiencies is the best way to feed any equine (look under the Hay Balancing file if you want professional help balancing). If you absolutely cannot test your hay and balance the minerals to it, or would like to use a "stop gap" product until you get your hay balanced, here's a list of "acceptable" ration balancers

There is a lot of helpful information in the start here folder so it is important you read all the documents found there. The emergency diet involves soaking your untested hay for an hour in cold water or 30 minutes in hot water. This removes up to 30% of the sugar content, but no starch. Starch is worse than sugar since it converts 100% to glucose while sugar only converts 50%, so starch causes a bigger insulin spike. Make sure you dump the soaking water where the equine(s) can't get to it. 

What you don't feed on the EMS/IR diet is every bit as, if not more important than, what you do feed! No grass. No grain. No sugary treats, including apples and carrots. No brown/red salt blocks which contain iron (and sometimes molasses) which interferes with mineral balancing, so white salt blocks only. 

No products containing molasses. No bagged feeds with a combined sugar and starch of over 10% or starch over about 4%, or fat over about 4%. Unfortunately, even bagged feeds that say they are designed for IR and/or PPID equines are usually too high in sugar, starch and/or fat. It’s really important to know the actual analysis and not be fooled by a name that says it is suitable for EMS/IR individuals.

We do not recommend feeding alfalfa hay to EMS/IR equines as it makes many of them laminitic. Although it tends to be low in sugar, many times the starch is higher and does not soak out. Additionally, protein and calcium are quite high, which can contribute to sore footedness and make mineral balancing very difficult.

TRIM: A proper trim is toes backed and heels lowered so that the hoof capsule closely hugs and supports the internal structures of the foot. Though important for all equines, it's essential for IR and/or PPID equines to have a proper trim in place since they are at increased risk for laminitis. After any potential triggers are removed from the diet, and in PPID individuals, the ACTH is under control, the realigning trim is often the missing link in getting a laminitic equine comfortable. In general, laminitic hooves require more frequent trim adjustments to maintain the proper alignment so we recommend the use of padded boots rather than fixed appliances (i.e. shoes, clogs), at least during the initial phases of treatment.

Sometimes subclinical laminitis can be misdiagnosed as arthritis, navicular, or a host of other problems as the animal attempts to compensate for sore feet. 

You are encouraged to make an album and post hoof pictures and any radiographs you might have so we can to look to see if you have an optimal trim in place. Read this section of the wiki for how to get a hoof evaluation, what photos are needed, and how to get the best hoof shots and radiographs.

EXERCISEThe best IR buster there is, but only if the equine is comfortable and non-laminitic. An individual that has had laminitis needs 6-9 months of correct realigning trims before any serious exercise can begin. Once the equine is moving around comfortably at liberty, hand walking can begin in long straight lines with no tight turns. Do not force a laminitic individual to move, or allow its other companions to do so. It will begin to move once the pain begins to subside. Resting its fragile feet is needed for healing to take place so if the animal wants to lay down, do not encourage it to get up. Place feed and water where it can be reached easily without having to move any more than necessary. Be extremely careful about movement while using NSAIDs (bute, banamine, previcox, etc.) as it masks pain and encourages more movement than these fragile feet are actually able to withstand. Additionally, NSAIDs (and icing) do not work on metabolic laminitis and long term NSAID use interferes with healing. Therefore, we recommend tapering off NSAIDs after the first week or so of use. If after a week's time your equine's comfort level has not increased, then the cause of the laminitis has not been removed and keeping up the NSAIDs isn't the answer - you need to address the underlying cause.


There is lots more information in our files and archived messages and also on our website. It is a lot of information, so take some time to go over it and feel free to ask any questions. If you are feeling overwhelmed, don't worry, you will catch on, and we are always here to help you! Once you have your case history uploaded, we can help you help your equine partner even better.

For members outside North America, there are country specific folders in the files and many international lists in the wiki to help you find local resources.

If you have any technical difficulties, please let us know so we can help you. 

Cindy and Glow (over the rainbow bridge) - Sep 2017, Singapore
ECIR Primary Response


Thank you CIndy Q for all the information, I have ordered spirulina as a start and will continue reading through some of the information you have shared.
Morgan - Western Australia - joined 2022


I have been on the same terrible journey  of extreme Alergic itch.
Just wanted to add to the good advice you were given that also helped my horse. Dusty
 has extreme itch. Vets told me to moved him to different part of state or put him down. So my advice is just what I do to keep my horse as comfortable as I can. By catching the itch early in the season before the entire body gets so inflamed reallt is important. I give cool baths, benadryl and use zephyr garden " stop the itch ", spray Uckele carries, really helpedto calm the skin. Then as season gets worse i use low dose of banamine to keep his inflammation  down. His whole body radiates heat when itch increases.Also liberal use of calimine on the open sores really helped. Can't  stress enough as was said before the importance of Zinc,copper,magnesium balance in the diet. Boosting the immune system helped Dusty. I use Uckele's Herbal imune and 'Gut".
Each year has been better. The allergy shots help  I still have to use use 3 cc of Dex no more the once or twice a month during peak fly season to keep him from exploding into full blown skin tearing  itch. This is a very low dose, dose for my 1025lb horse. It is a last resort and I have anxiety every time I do it but it gives him quality of life.
Sorry this is so long, but my heart goes out to anyone that has to go through this with their horse. 

Lori, Abel, Bodie & Dusty


Redding, CA,,,50,2,0,0 .