Sweet Itch is a problem that affects thousands of horses around the world. It is a medical condition that manifests itself as an allergic reaction caused by an overactive immune system. A delayed hypersensitivity to insect bites causes an over vigorous response by the horse’s immune system and results in the uncontrollable need to scratch.
The main cause of this affliction is the tiny Cullicoides midge who’s breeding sites are commonly found in wet soil or moist and decaying vegetation. Their action is limited by their flight span as midges are only capable of flying short distances and are not able to fly in strong wind, heavy rain or bright clear sunlight. The grey light at dusk and dawn is their favourite environment, however on humid days with cloud cover they will fly and feed at any time.
Normally the Cullicoides breeding cycle runs from late March until the end of October, however, extended optimum weather and temperatures will extend this. Symptoms are easy to spot and include severe pruritus (itching), hair loss and skin thickening. Exudative dermatitis (weeping sores) may also occur, and these generally need treatment to prevent secondary infection. The horse may swish its tail vigorously, roll frequently and attempt to scratch on anything in reach. Itching is not just limited to the mane and tail as in severe cases it can affect the whole body.
A marked change in temperament with lethargy and general lack of ‘sparkle’ may affect the horse as they become agitated, impatient and suffer from a lack of concentration. Horses that develop sweet itch usually show signs in the first five years of life and symptoms reoccur every year. Special fly rugs can help during turnout, though a badly affected horse may need to be stabled during times when midges are active.
Another option is to use a product such as Killitch from Carr & Day & Martin. Killitch is a veterinary licensed product proven to not only prevent sweet itch when used before symptoms appear, but also to treat and soothe already irritated areas. Killitch is a must for any horse suffering from the discomfort of sweet itch.
For more information on Killitch, click here