Temperatures are rising, the first insects are on their way and your horse is already scratching its mane and tail like crazy on the pole fence. Every year, the itching phase starts all over again in spring and usually only ends with the onset of winter. We have a few tips to bring your horse relief, and some information on the topic of sweet itch: What is sweet itch and how can I help my itching horse?
What is classic sweet itch in horses?
In principle it's a hypersensitivity reaction of the immune system of your horse, reacting to the saliva of mosquito-like insects like Culicoides ssp., midges, Simulium and blackflies. So it's a type of allergy. You can't predict why and from when exactly in the season your horse will develop sweet itch. It can basically affect any breed of horse, any gender and any age. The saliva from the mosquito-like insects enters into the organism of your horse. It contains special proteins that constitute an antigen. The horse's body reacts to this antigen by forming antibodies and tries to fight the antigens in this way, causing an immune reaction. If the immune response is very violent, one speaks of a hypersensitivity reaction. Your horse becomes sensitised to the saliva, to put it that way, and develops an allergy. From this point on it is referred to as classic sweet itch.
How can I support my itching horse?
You can't cure an allergy as such, but you can still do something for your horse.
Always protect your horse with sweet itch from more stings!
There are several ways of doing this:
- a sweet itch rug (even if everyone says :"the poor horse, he's always got a blanket on". A horse with true sweet itch loves his blanket, because it means less itching and less suffering.)
- Keep him stabled at dawn and dusk (at these times insect activity is at its highest. In the direct midday sun there are usually fewer insects.)
- Open stable with the possibility of withdrawing into a dark brick stable (you'll see, your itcher will spend a lot of time there on his own volition)
- Avoid having stables and grazing in the vicinity of water (damp areas, lakes, damp grazing etc. attract insects).
- Use insect traps and insect repellent sprays
- Summer grazing at higher than 1800m above sea level (if you horse is very badly affected in summer, he will be happy about living in an insect-free zone in summer.)
With the allergic reaction, the immune defence responds through the main detoxification organ, the skin. More dandruff is formed on the mane comb, root of the tail, the areas under the eyes or in the ears. This itches very badly! Wash the dandruff out as well as you can. Keep the skin damp, for example with oil, so that the dandruff binds and the skin calms down again. Wash out the oil every 2-3 days, as this gets rid of old dandruff, for one, and on the other hand opens up blocked pores so that the skin can breathe again.
Give your horse feed that's low in protein!
This is easy to implement by feeding hay and lucerne adjusted to age, size, weight and work as a source of protein. Horses with sweet itch, especially, should not receive any additional protein as in concentrates. Feeding your horse a good mineral feed adjusted to the quality of your hay and its ingredients is also ideal.
Disinfect and treat wounds!
When your horse rubs himself hard and it results in direct skin injuries, you should make sure that the wound is cleaned and possibly treated with a healing ointment. It could otherwise quickly lead to further inflammation and even to infection and sepsis.
Allow some opportunities for rubbing, even with sweet itch!
Imagine itching really badly and someone makes it totally impossible for you to scratch yourself. That is just terrible and almost borders on torture. You could provide different kinds of brooms for rubbing, for example. Don't deprive your horse of the possibility of relief!
Stimulate the metabolism and detoxify several times a year!
Try to stimulate your horse's metabolism and the detoxification process. Your horse not only has mental stress during the summer, but his body is also working at full speed. The liver and kidneys often don't cope well with detoxification during a hypersensitive reaction. You can support this process with various herbs such as milk thistle, nettle, birch leaves and dandelion.
Compiled by: Bianca Becker-Slovacek on 21/02/2019
- Gerber V./ Straub R. (2016): Equine diseases. Internal Medicine (2nd edition) (V. Gerber, & R. Straub, eds.) Bern: utb.Reichling, J., Gachnian-Mirtscheva, R., Frater-Schröder, M., Di Carlo, A., & Widmaier, W. (2008). Herbalism for the veterinary practice Berlin-Heidelberg: Springer Medizin Verlag.
- In case you have a special interest in the topic of equine metabolism, you' can find out more about it in our Ewalia Magic Tips: Alles zum Fellwechsel und wie du durch richtige Fütterung den Stoffwechsel deines Pferdes unterstützen kannst! [All about shedding and how you can support your horse's metabolism through correct nutrition!]