Sweet Itch- the not-so-sweet allergy that makes you pull your hair out
If you’re reading this, you likely have barn chores to get after, so I’ll keep it short and sweet ;)
If you have a horse that is a sweet-itch victim, the time is NOW (more like yesterday!) to start prevention for this season. If you have acquired a new horse since last summer, the time is NOW to start monitoring closely- or your pretty new pony may end up with no mane or tail in a matter of days.
What is “Sweet Itch”? Sweet Itch is a seasonal allergic reaction caused by biting midges, which can lead to hair loss and skin infection.
The Facts:1. The most common cause of Sweet Itch is theCulicoides midge.
2.Culicoides are 1-3mm in length- you cannot even see them! (But we know they're flying with their friends- mosquitos, flies, etc. )
3.Only female midges bite horses(they energy to lay eggs)- so thank THEM!
4.The sting goes away- it's the saliva left behind that causes the problem.
5. Not all horses suffer, most don’t, some are genetically prone to allergies.
The Allergic Reaction:(here's how we get from midge to hair loss)
A midge bites a horse--> leaves saliva just under the horses skin--> this is the allergen
If a horse is allergic to this allergen --> theydevelop a Type I Hypersensitivity (think hay fever or asthma in people)
Allergic horses immune system produces histamine to fight off the allergen--> swelling at bite site
Swelling due to the overload of histamine (note- HYPERsensitivity)--> itching sensation begins
More bites--> more allergen--> more histamine--> ITCHING like CRAZY--> tail and mane are UGLY
PREVENTION is KEY! This can happen after ONE bite. Dr. FREE(ny’s) advice to prevent midge bites (and other seasonal insect bites while you’re at it): Environment Matters-1. Be very aggressive with flying insect control on the farm. Spraying/trapping systems? great- but keep the place clean so they work!
2. Keep stalls clean and remove muck piles immediately.
3. Any standing water on the farm should be removed. Keep water sources CLEAN & fresh- or they become breeding grounds.
Horse Protection- 1. If you have a horse with a history of sweet itch: keep them INSIDE 4pm-8am- Do not leave them out to be eaten alive! (Flying insects are most active between dusk and dawn 4pm – 8am)
2. Create air travel through the barn. Midges can't fight wind >5mph. Keep fans blowing 24/7 to keep flying insects from gathering in your barn
3. Send your horse out each day to graze with fly spry on- EVERY DAY!
4. Send your horse out each day to graze with greasy baby oil Apply this to usually affected areas (Biting midges won’t bite though oil)
5. Send your horse out each day to graze in an insect repelling sheet. The sheet should cover usually affected areas- face, mane & tail-head. This is such a common problem that many brands are available online
PREVENTION is key- BUT sometimes it comes too late OR sometimes there is that ONE bite that sets off the allergic reaction and intense itching. Once affected, Sweet Itch is tough, but is manageable.The good news it that there are several methods to treat Sweet Itch and provide a suffering horse with relief! Treatment must be started IMMEDIATELY when you notice a horse itching for the best results. If you have a horse that is suffering from Sweet Itch and would like to provide some relief OR if you would like to develop a preventative plan specific to your horse, please call and schedule an appointment.
I am hoping for a sweet-itch free summer for all horses that have suffered previously!