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Can you recognize sweet itch?

Sweet Itch, Tail and Mane Eczema or Summer Seasonal Recurrent Dermatitis. All terms for a hypersensitivity to insect bites in horses. Sweet itch is a condition that occurs in horses, ponies and donkeys from about March to November.

This hypersensitivity to insect bites is caused by the saliva of mosquitoes, especially the cullicoid mosquito. The saliva contains a protein to which the horse reacts allergic so that cytokines are produced in the body. These cause inflammation and extreme itching of the skin.

Symptoms of Sweet Itch

In the summer period, many horses and ponies suffer from itching from insect bites. But usually after a little bit of sanding or treatment with insect spray, it is easy to solve and no problems arise. With sweet itch, the allergic reaction to mosquito bites is so extreme that the horse has clear symptoms. With sweet itch, the horse develops the following symptoms:

  • Hypersensitivity to insect bites on the mane comb in particular. Tail, on top of the back and under the forelock
  • Extreme itching of the ears and head is also common
  • In severe cases also extreme itching under the belly, at the navel and udder and even the legs
  • Horses literally chafe themselves through the extreme itching, resulting in:
    • Broken hairs
    • Development of a thicker skin
    • Scaly skin
    • Broken skin, resulting in inflamed wounds
  • Horses are extremely restless with the tail
  • Rolls more than usual and rubs against everything it encounters
  • Sits like a dog to rub belly on the ground
  • Behavioral changes

Be critical of the symptoms and take a good look at your horse’s health. There are fewer horses with sweet itch than we think. Overweight, Insulin resistance and reaction to fertilizers, for example, can give the same symptoms.

How can you control sweet itch?

It is not possible to completely cure sweet itch. Sweet itch is therefore an annual, recurring problem. But sweet itch can in many cases be kept under control, so that the nuisance for the horse is minimal. Here are some tips:

  1. Use an eczema blanket:
    Eczema blankets have such small meshes that the mosquito cannot penetrate them. In this way you prevent the horse from being stabbed (a lot) and thereby reducing the allergic reactions. Start applying the eczema blanket on time, because the season starts in March.
  2. Use a fly mask:
    Horses with sweet itch also often chafe their heads and ears. By protecting it, the horse cannot be stabbed there and less damage will occur during sanding. Make sure you have a good fit!
  3. Make your horse more resilient:
    By increasing the resistance of your horse, the horse becomes more resistant to the allergic reactions, so that it can easily “handle” them in the body. You make the horse more resilient by doing a detox in the spring and autumn so that the body is clean and these waste products no longer block the horse. A detox also ensures that nutrients are better absorbed and utilized by the horse. During the season it is important that the horse gets enough vitamins and minerals.
  4. Make your horse less attractive to mosquitoes:
    By giving a supplement that makes your horse less attractive, you prevent the mosquitoes from biting your horse and thus keep the mosquitoes away. To do this, use a supplement that can be excreted through the skin through the blood. Do not use garlic because of the toxicity to horses! The addition of cannabinoids also has a positive effect on horses with sweet itch due to the resistance-enhancing and anti-inflammatory properties.
  5. Place your horse in the stable at dusk:
    More mosquitoes are active at dusk. That period is extremely difficult for a horse with sweet itch. Standing in the stable for those hours can be a huge relief and help your horse get less itchy.
  6. Avoid standing water:
    Buckets of water that stand for days, ponds or other places with standing water attract mosquitoes. These are the perfect places to lay eggs for mosquitoes. Therefore avoid as much standing water as possible.
  7. Treat wounds:
    Sanded your horse? Then treat the wounds so that they recover quickly and do not become infected. Adding salmon oil to the ration helps wounds heal faster and has an anti-inflammatory effect.
  8. Find a working fly spray:
    There are many types of fly sprays available, one of which works better than the other. Find a spray that will help your horse.
  9. Also protect during excercixe:
    Also use fly spray and / or a fly riding blanket while working so that your horse is not punctured during work.
  10. Keep your horse at a healthy weight:
    Overweight horses react extra sensitive to insect bites, causing even more inflammatory reactions. It is therefore important that your horse is at a healthy weight and the sugars are minimized.

Conclusion: sweet itch requires a lot of investment

Not only in the field of money (blanket, mask and supplements) but also in the field of management. Start the approach in time and take as many steps as possible to get the horse comfortable. Be critical of the management, ration and see if changes are possible so that your horse will be less stung.

Need advice? We are happy to help you with tips!

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