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Feeling a little itchy? Dealing with Sweet Itch...

Finally! The weather is starting to take a turn for the better and we are starting to see some milder days. Winter is a long, hard slog. It’s surprising how much better you feel when you only need a body warmer and you don’t have to look like you’re wearing the entire contents of your wardrobe! The only draw back to this nice weather is the dreaded midges!

horses in summer

Personally, I struggle during the summer months with Crunchie’s skin. I’ve never had a horse that has suffered from ‘Sweet Itch’ before and it’s definitely an eye opener! I have no idea how people cope with this problem when it is very severe. Crunchie has extremely mild symptoms of this horrid problem and I feel helpless when the symptoms occur. His biggest problem is his tail. It generally resembles a ‘bog brush’ no matter what I do, but at least it still has hair on it! I really pity those horses that really suffer with this issue.

So.. What is ‘Sweet Itch’ I hear you ask?

Although it is commonly known as ‘Sweet Itch’ the term for ‘itching’ is ‘Pruritis’. It is the sensation that causes the desire to scratch, rub or bite! It is thought that over 50,000 horses in the UK suffer from skin allergies in the summer each year. That’s a massive amount of horses scratching!

There are a number of causes of these allergies such as; feed sensitivity, nettle stings and most commonly midge bites!! Who would’ve thought the saliva of a midge would be such an irritation? In some cases the horse will cause so much damage to itself through scratching/rubbing that it is not even possible for them to tolerate tack!

horse nose

What are the signs?

  • Mild to severe itching and rubbing, usually along the mane, back and tail
  • Loss of tail and mane hair and bold patches on the skin
  • Areas of sore, open, broken skin, which have a tendency to bleed
  • Itching along the legs or belly

So what can we do to help?

I think with these cases anything you can try will help! Midges are more active at dawn and dusk, so avoiding turnout during these times will be beneficial. Using a ‘Sweet Itch’ rug is a definite help- Crunchie has his just for turnout but these are suitable to be used in the stable if need be, they help protect from midge bites! A good fly spray is essential!! One thing that should not be scrimped on and should be applied liberally!!

Adding supplements to the diet will also help, EquiNutritive sell ‘Chia de Gracia’ seeds. These small but highly efficient seeds are rich in omega fatty acids, which help to lubricate the horse’s skin and maintain good skin condition- among other things! Fidavet Cavalesse is a natural food supplement containing the active ingredient Nicotinamide (a type of Vitamin B3), which is known to have a specific effect on the immune system within the skin. It is useful for all types of allergic skin disease in the horse, in particular sweet itch. This is usually sought from your local veterinarian.

Leovet and NAF also stock a range of skin products that can help. I use Leovet’s ‘No Rub’ which helps rid dandruff and goes some way to resolve itchiness. I’ve also found the use of NAF ‘Love the Skin He’s In’ Spray helps massively (plus it smells really nice too). The spray can be applied to the skin covering lumps, bumps and rashes to help soothe and comfort, relieving the itching sensation!

It is advisable in severe cases to contact your local vet for advice and treatment.

horses in field

Personally, I use Cavalesse on Crunchie prior to the issue starting. I will also be starting EquiNutritive’s ‘Chia de Gracia’ seeds soon to allow this to get into his system well before the midges strike!! This along with the Leovet and NAF products help to keep him happy! If anyone has any other tips or tricks that help I would very much like to know about them!

Sweet Itch is not an easy problem to deal with, but each little thing can help your horse have a much happier, more comfortable summer. So do not despair, there will be something out there that can make your horse feel more carefree from those pesky midges!

Sam x