Why you need to know the signs of Sweet Itch

Friday 9th August, 2019

grazing horse
Horse grazing in field

We are right in the thick of sweet itch season, and if your horse is a victim you have our sincerest sympathies. Sweet Itch is anything but sweet, it causes intense itching which can lead to chronic infection in severe cases. Horse owners need to know the signs of Sweet Itch so they can be vigilant in spotting outbreaks and treat it as early as possible. Here is the low down on what you need to know.

What is Sweet Itch?

Sweet Itch is the result of an allergic reaction within the skin to the Culicoides midge. This insect is most prevalent in the UK between March and November, meaning that horses who present with the allergy can suffer for many months. Horses that seek shelter near standing water or who are not stabled over the summer are most susceptible.

What are the signs?

When a horse with the allergy is bitten by the Culicoides midge, the skin has an inflammatory response to the midge’s saliva. The areas most frequently bitten are the forelock mane and tail, and as a result of the itching horses rub this area excessively, which leads to hair loss, thickened skin and sores. If left untreated, the wounds can spread and become infected, resulting in systemic illness.

Can horses suddenly get Sweet Itch?

Yes, horses that have never presented with the condition before can become affected. This is due to the fact that their immune response has fought off the midge bites for many years, however there comes a point where it can no longer do so, and then we see the allergic response.

Can I prevent Sweet Itch?

Sadly, there is no treatment that will prevent the onset entirely. However, there are steps you can take to help prevent the severity of your horse’s condition. Firstly, you can stable them during dawn and dusk as these are the times when the midges are most active. Avoid evening rides, especially alongside standing water, as midges gather here. When turning out, you can use summer turnout rugs with neck and tail extensions. Not only will these keep the most midge prone areas protected, they will also promote healing if your horse has been affected already.

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