Understanding and Managing Equine Itch
Dealing with itchy horses (also known as Itch, Sweet Itch or Queensland Itch) can be a frustrating and exhaustive task for horse owners. What works for one horse may not work for another and it can, for many, be a matter or trial and error to find what works for your particular horse.
Understanding what itch is and what causes it is the first step to tackling it and managing the symptoms.
So, what is itch? Itch is Equine Culicoides Hypersensitivity, a medical condition caused by an allergic response to the bites and saliva of Culicoides (midges) and itch most often occurs in horses living in warmer humid climates.
Itch is usually a seasonal problem, occurring during the hot and wet months between October and April.
The typical symptoms of a horse suffering with itch include a seasonally itchy horse, rub sores and hair loss around the face, ears, neck, along the top of the back and base of the tail. Some horses have rub sores along their flank, and in severe cases they can have sores under their belly. Also, in severe cases horses can create open wounds, puncture wounds and abscesses from continuous scratching. Often horses who suffer badly with itch will develop swollen and thickened skin after a long period of chronic skin inflammation and can develop skin pigment changes.
When thinking about managing and treating itch our tip is to take a 3-pronged approach
1. Stop/reduce the midge bites: The best way to keep itch to a minimum is to minimise bites. Midges are most active at dawn and dusk, therefore applying an insecticide, such as Alto Bug Shield morning and night will help control midge attacks.
Keeping your horse rugged during the afternoon through to mid-morning will also minimise the exposure areas.
A fly mask that covers the horse’s head, poll and ears, such as the heavy-duty Cashel Crusader Masks, will stop the horse getting bitten on the face and can help prevent face rubbing.
2. Diet changes: Evidence suggests there are feed additives that can help repel biting insects, these include yellow sulphur powder, Thiamine/Vitamin B1 (which can be found in Country Park Brewers Yeast), apple cider vinegar and garlic (which you can get combined in NRG’s Apple Cider Vinegar with Garlic).
3. Soothing the symptoms: The sores resulting from self-trauma will themselves become itchy and perpetuate the itch cycle. Using a medicated wash, such as Malaseb will help kill any unwanted bacteria and reduce infections. Topical creams, such as Ranvet’s White Healer, and oils such as Calafea Oil or Shapley’s M-T-G Oil can help sooth and repair damaged skin and reduce overall itchiness.
Finding what works to keep your horse’s itch at bay will take some testing, some successes and some failures. The main thing to remember is to be consistent with your management and treatment of itch - this is the best way to see positive results.