Sweet itch – what is it and what can be done about it?

by Sarah Macey

With the summer pretty much underway, horse owners need to be aware of the danger of sweet itch. Seasonal Recurrent Dermatitis (SSRD) is caused by an allergic reaction from midges.
Redwings say that the insects tend to prefer the areas around the horse’s tail, mane and withers. The horses affected get very uncomfortable and it can cause an intense itch. It can be so severe that horses scratch against things to subside the itch and can cause them to bleed which then opens up wounds which can be prone to infection and problems with flies.

What should you look out for in your horse?

Keep your eyes peeled for any intense scratching that they may be doing and checking that there are no sore and scabby areas. Horse and Hound also suggest to check for any loss of tail and mane hair, bald patches and in some cases, itching along the legs and under the belly. With a condition like sweet itch, prevention it better than cure.

  • Make sure that your horse is not near any stagnant water where insects may gather and clean your water troughs thoroughly.
  • Keep your horse away from your muck heap. These midges love the much so make sure you get it removed regularly.
  • Keep your horses’ field scratch post free. Make sure that there is nothing where they can get up to and have a good scratch (fence posts being ideal!)

Field shelters aren’t just good at keeping your horse out of the nasty weather we have. Make sure they have access to their field shelter especially at dusk and dawn as these are the midge’s favourite times to be out and about. See www.primestables.co.uk/our-range/mobile-field-shelters/ to find out more about mobile field shelters – they do not require planning or groundwork!
You could also think about stabling your horse during the period from dusk until dawn.

Midges don’t like wind so fitting a fan into your horse’s stable is another way of helping prevent anything irritating them. These days, you can buy great sweet itch blankets which are designed to be breathable which the midges cannot then penetrate with their bite. If this is your plan, just ensure that you put it on before the summer season starts and check underneath it daily. You can also get fly fringes, mask and of course, insect repellent.

What to do if your horse does get sweet itch?

Again, Horse and Hound have advice on this. They say that once the disease has been located, a combination of medicines can be used the treat various cases. Steroids can be successful with treating sweet itch but a relapse weeks or months after can occur. Buying specific oil-based shampoos, solutions and sprays can help make your horse more comfortable during this time and can soothe their skin. Lastly, certain antihistamines can also be used but be aware that they can cause drowsiness and should be used with caution.

We suggest that you seek advice from your vet should your horse contract sweet itch.

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