Sweet Itch in Horses
By: Dr. Lydia Gray
“Sweet Itch,” also known as “summer itch” or summer seasonal recurrent dermatitis (SSRD), is an allergic reaction to the Culicoides biting midge or “no-see-um” gnat, although horses can develop allergies to other insects such as black flies, horn flies, and stable flies. Insect hypersensitivity like “sweet itch” is the most common allergy in horses, and it is also the most common cause of itching. Certain breeds like Welsh ponies, Icelandic horses, and Shires are predisposed to the condition meaning it is likely inherited, although any horse can develop “sweet itch” when exposed to the saliva and insect parts of various species of Culicoides.
Some horses will rub their belly or girth area.
omega 3 fatty acids and MSM but since it can take a few weeks or more to see results, experts recommend starting horses on these ingredients before “sweet itch” season begins. A long-term approach may include allergen specific immunotherapy or “allergy shots” to gradually desensitize the body to Culicoides and other agents. In order to get started with this therapy, a specialist will usually need to perform intradermal skin testing to accurately and reliably identify the specific substances that trigger an allergic reaction in an individual horse.
As with all allergies, a large part of the success is due to preventing exposure to the offending agent. In the case of “sweet itch”, that means reducing the numbers of Culicoides in the horse’s environment and preventing these midges from landing and biting. Every effort should be made to remove manure, control standing water, and eliminate plant waste. Barriers are an effective method to keep gnats off horses and range from full body sheets (including neck protection), fly boots, and fly masks; to stall fans; to mesh curtains on all barn openings to keep insects out of the stable. Also remember that no-see-ums prefer to feed at certain times of day, like dusk, so consider keeping affected horses inside while the sun goes down.
SmartPak strongly encourages you to consult your veterinarian regarding specific questions about your horse's health. This information is not intended to diagnose or treat any disease, and is purely educational.
Article first published 5/15/2017