Sweet Itch - The Full Story
Most people look forward to spring and rejoice the summermonths. Not so if you own a horse with sweet itch! Not only is this conditionirritating and uncomfortable for your horse, it is also a thankless task tryingto control it on a daily basis.
But for the welfare of your horse, it is essential that youdo deal with it daily. The first part of the battle is understanding just whatyou are up against….
The sweet itch story
Imagine being bitten by a midge, and not being able to stopscratching the bite. Then imagine living out in a field where midges and fliesgather around you at every opportunity, biting and gnawing you, irritating anditching you. That’s what living with sweet itchis like for an afflicted horse.
Caused by an allergic reaction to the saliva of theCulicoides midge (and to a lesser extent, the black fly, horn fly and stablefly), it gives rise to a need to constantly scratch. Intense itching leads toan over-reaction of the immune system as it tries to correct its autoimmuneresponse
Although it has several different technical name including IBH- insect bite hypersensitivity - Queensland Itch, Equine Summer Itch and SSRDor Summer Seasonal Recurrent Dermatitis, it is thought it was named sweet itchin years gone by, due to its prevalence when the sugars in grass are higher. It’s thought that all things sweet makethe condition worse, and hence the name stuck.
Got the itch
So, your horse is itching non-stop and seems worse earlyevening and morning. It’slikely he has rubbed it raw, causing bare batches of skin that are thick, soreand ulcerated. The mane, top of the tail and neck seem to be the areas effectedthe most – possibly because these arethe places that horses find easiest to scratch. If all this seems familiar, it’s likely he
Stop the itch
Sweet itch has no known cure so the best possible option ispreventing the midges from biting in the first place. The options below are allworth implementing, but bear in mind each horse reacts differently.
Fly rugs seem to be the most effective atkeeping the little biters away, but they need to cover the whole head, neck,body and belly.
Try and keep susceptible horses away from areaswhere midges might gather – suchas meadows, marshy land, and near rivers and bodies of water. Also, keep yourhorse in at dusk and dawn, when midges and flies seem to be out in force.
Make sure you keep your stable area scrupulouslyclean – dirty straw, puddles andanything rotting is a mecca for midges, and they will be drawn to it like Winniethe Poo to honey
You can also investigate different types ofinsecticides and midge repellents, from homemade varieties to chemicalformulations. Anecdotal evidence suggest they can have some effect, and herbalremedies will do your horse no harm.
An anti-itch shampoo can also works wonders.Shampooing several times a week with Aqueos can have a long-lasting effect,particularly as it continues to work for several days after application.
There have also been trials with a sweet itch pill– again, anecdotally it seems to haveworked for some horse, but not others. Overall results have been positive,however.
Steroids have been used to suppress the immunesystem, but they come with the risk of increasing the prevalence of laminitis.Laminitis is much more dangerous than sweet itch so bear that in mind whenconsidering this option.
Keep horses in breezy areas or make your ownwind in the stable with a fan – midgeshate wind!
You can also try an in-feed insect repellent, andherbal mixtures, as well as adding garlic – itworks for keeping vampires away so why not midges?
Young horses generally show no symptoms until they reach 4years old, so if your youngster has suddenly developed the condition it isbecause it has laid dormant until this time.
If you have a horse with sweet itch you have our sympathy.However, it would also be a shame to miss out on a great horse, just because hehas sweet itch. Learning to manage it can give much respite and allow you andyour horse to enjoy many years together. Aqueos products to try:- Anti-Bacterial Shampoo & First Aid Spray