Preparing for the Sweet Itch Season
What is sweet itch and when does it affect horses?
Insect Bite Hypersensitivity, otherwise known as Sweet Itch, in the UK, is a chronic, recurrent, seasonal dermatitis of horses. Sweet itch in horses is caused by the bites of female biting midges – species of the genera Culicoides – horses have an allergic reaction to the protein in the saliva of these biting insects. This causes the immune system to attack its own cells and leads to the extreme reaction.
Sadly for some horses the ‘sweet itch season’ can now last a lot longer due to milder winters. Most horses begin to show signs of sweet itch around April but it could be earlier if the weather is mild. By October/November the weather will usually be cool enough to kill off insects again.
After TurmerItchWhat does sweet itch in horses look like?
Horses predominantly show signs of sweet itch at the base of the mane and tail, and on the face. The withers, back, belly and rump can also be affected. Clinical signs range from mild to severe itchiness, often accompanied by hair loss and broken skin from constant scratching which can then lead to an infection. Over time the skin can thicken, folds develop and the hair becomes sparse and coarse with flaky skin. Several behavioural changes can also occur including excessive rolling and mutual grooming, head shaking, face rubbing and an agitated/restless demeanour. As it presents typically in a horse's second or third summer and subsequently worsens with age, it appears to be a delayed hypersensitivity as well as a threshold response.
How can you prepare for the sweet itch season?
The best way to help your horse prepare for the sweet itch season is to make sure their skin and coat is as healthy as possible. This can be achieved by providing good nutrition, checking for any abnormalities daily, providing suitable protection from the elements and regular grooming.
How can nutrition help?
Correct nutrition and hydration are essential for coat and skin health, always speak to an equine nutritionist and your vet if you have any concerns about your feeding regime and horse’s health. Nutrition is vital for skin health as certain nutrients are the building blocks of skin and hair. Certain minerals such as zinc, copper, fatty acids, and biotin are crucial so if your horse has a forage only diet adding a vitamin and mineral supplement may be necessary. If you are feeding a complete feed make sure you use the recommended amounts. Make sure your horse always has access to water and ensure you monitor intake in hot weather and check for signs of dehydration.
Nutrition not only supplies the major nutrients, but selective use of plant bioactives can support the skins response to the challenges it receives – physical damage, invasive components whether insect, tick or microbe borne – whilst supporting its structural integrity. Supplementation with omega fatty acids, natural antioxidants, essential oils, flavonoids and other plant polyphenols can give a multifaceted support to skin health, all components that can be found in TurmerItch from The Golden Paste Company.
What else can I do to prepare my horse for the sweet itch season?
By planning your management routine ahead of time and making any required changes to stables, fields etc., you will be ready to take action when the midges strike.
Get your sweet itch rugs washed over winter and any repairs made if needed so they are clean and ready as soon as you need them.
By feeding TurmerItch all year round your horse will be less responsive to allergens generally, subsequent seasonal rises in insects should be less of a problem; the skin of the horse will have a barrier of bioactives that have been shown to act as a repellent, neem for example, and be less responsive to bites. By introducing this dietary system that can help optimise digestive health, the microbiome and gut integrity, the allergenic contribution to the itch threshold is reduced; subsequent challenges from biting insects may then fall below the threshold, thus reducing scratching and damage to the coat and skin.
How can I reduce my horse’s contact with midges?
Once midges are around there are several ways we can help horses with sweet itch by reducing their contact with midges.
- Bring horses in at dawn and dusk and if possible fit small mesh over the stable doors and windows to stop insects getting in.
- Avoid fields with or near water and hedges or trees as these are areas where midges gather, an exposed field is best as midges can’t fly if the wind speed is over 5mph. Make sure you keep on top of poo picking and avoid humid conditions as much as possible.
- For horses that are severely affected, a ceiling fan in the stable may be required in case any midges do get in.
- Using a sweet itch rug can also protect the horse and some people find an insect repellent helps.
- There are topical products on the market and if very severe your vet may prescribe steroid medication.
Using TurmerItch as part of sweet itch management is a new approach which proved to be very effective in trials.
TurmerItch combines key specialist ingredients including Neem, Red Bush Tea, Apple Cider Vinegar and Chamomile, to help provide relief from itching and soothe the skin by promoting a healthy skin and coat. It also contains Turmeric and Cooked Linseed to help produce a high shine to the horse’s coat.
The active ingredients in TurmerItch™ support biting insect repulsion and help maintain reduced sensitivity which was demonstrated during trials with the supplement over a 12-month period. Not only was the supplement extremely beneficial to horses suffering with biting insects as it reduced itching, it also improved hair regrowth and coat shine.