The Mystery of the Incredible Balding Horse solved: soy allergy

Horse’s chronic hair loss appears to be caused by soybean oil allergy.

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Most of you won’t make it to the end of this column. You’ll get a few sentences in and think, “Meh,” and move on to something else. Those who stick with me may leap up and cheer in joy and relief.

Why write about something with such narrow appeal? Well, for one really fantastic reason, we have a world-class veterinary school in our area, and this may be new material for them. If you know a veterinarian or vet student, show them this column, particularly if their focus is horses. Whether or not this topic applies to other animals, I’m not sure. But I suspect it does: inexplicable hair loss.

It began innocently enough last summer. My horse started scratching his rump against the fence. A lot. Enough that he’d torn chunks of hair from his tail. Simultaneously, a weird crusty patch began forming on his flank, and I scratched it with my fingernail and shrugged, and figured it would probably go away.

It didn’t.

Not only didn’t it go away, but the hair began to fall out, creating a quarter-sized bald patch. I bathed him with Dr. Bronner’s soap (because ordinary horse soap is not good enough for my Pendragon) and put tea tree oil on it. The bald patch continued spreading. I tried mild Betadine wash. More spreading.

Next I tried old-school M-T-G lotion, which smells like the residue in a barbecue… it was stinky, but the spreading stalled for a bit.

But only for a bit.

Meanwhile, Penn’s tail-rubbing was out of control. He’d rubbed his dock (where the tail meets the backbone) bare, and rubbed red, oozing sores on both sides underneath his tail, where there’s only skin, and developed what looked like seborrhea all over his tailbone. No matter how much I brushed it out, it would be back the next day.

The bald patch was now a couple inches in diameter, so I called the vet. She took skin scrapings and pulled some hairs to examine for parasites or fungus. The test results came back clean as a whistle. No mange, no ringworm, no parasites, no fungus. It wasn’t rain rot or sweet itch. It was a mystery.

My vet prescribed some special shampoo containing chlorhexadine and some skin-soothing ingredients. Every other day, despite that we were now heading into winter and the mornings were becoming very cold, I washed Penn’s flank and tailbone in icy water, overflowing with apologies as he cringed, but tolerated all this nonsense.

Once again, the balding stalled, then came roaring back with a vengeance, approaching about a foot in diameter, and still creeping. Penn and I were starting to be shunned at the barn. Whatever my horse had, nobody else wanted their horses to catch it. And, I couldn’t blame them. The bald patch was really ugly, and the skin there was angry and curdled and flaky. Oddly enough, it didn’t seem to be contagious, because I was cleaning his tail and bald patch with my bare hands every day, and never caught it.

I next tried chorhexadine wipes, which worked on my cat when he had a bald patch. No improvement. Then Equiderma lotion, which treats a variety of equine skin problems. The bald patch continued spreading and the sores on his tail were now big, red and raw. I started bolting awake in the middle of the night, imagining my horse completely bald, wondering where I could purchase sunscreen by the gallon.

My stable pals showed Penn’s bald patch to their own vets, farriers and trainers, but none had seen anything like it. I sent photos of Penn’s side to another vet for a second opinion, and he also had no immediate ideas about the cause.

In a fit of desperation, I threw sanity to the wind and consulted Dr. Facebook, posting about my situation along with photos of Penn’s side and tail. I got all sorts of responses, but one in particular stood out. A gal named Trish said she’d heard of this sort of reaction from soy allergies.

That seemed pretty wild, however, right about the time the balding problem started, I started supplementing Penn’s feed with AniMed flaxseed oil blend, ironically, to make his coat shinier. The label indicates that soybean oil is actually the first ingredient, but doesn’t list percentages, maybe this “flaxseed oil blend” is really 99 percent soybean oil.

Having consulted Dr. Facebook, I asked Dr. Google for a second opinion, and discovered one lone blog post from a woman whose horse was frantically itching his hair and tail off, and had developed seborrhea in his tail. Just like Penn! The culprit? Soy allergy.

So, I stopped giving Penn the AniMed oil. Within one week, the spreading stopped. By two weeks, the skin was smooth and hair started growing back. The tail-rubbing slowed down, and the seborrhea diminished. Now, a month later, the hair is growing back nicely, the seborrhea is mostly gone and the sores are healed.

I reported my success back on Facebook, thanking Trish profusely for saving me thousands of dollars in vet bills, and a couple folks commented that their child or relative has a soy allergy that caused extreme hair loss. I have to wonder how many people or animals are being treated for strange hair loss that maybe gets called “alopecia” or an immune disorder, when in fact, it’s a soy allergy. Turns out, there’s plenty to be allergic to. Google the harmful effects of soybean oil, and prepare to be alarmed. Even more alarming, soybean oil is ubiquitous in our food supply, for both people and animals, and much of it is “Franken-food” — made from GMO soybeans. (Thank you, Monsanto.)

So there it is… equine skin mystery solved. If you, your child, your pet or your horse also has a chronic baldness problem, I suggest you experiment by eliminating soybean oil from your/their diets, and see if the skin problems clear up.

And, by the way… you’re welcome.

This was Penn’s bald patch in January, while still on a soybean oil supplement.


This was Penn’s bald patch, the first day off of soybean oil supplement.


This was Penn’s bald patch two weeks after stopping soybean oil supplement.


This is Penn’s bald patch one month after stopping soybean oil supplement.




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