Summer is here and the time of suffering of your horse, if he is ill with sweet itch, has begun again. Severe itching, constant rubbing and inflamed skin plague your four-legged friend. You can’t cure your sick horse, but you can provide him with soothing relief through targeted measures.
With our guide, we offer you valuable tips that will help you to quickly get your horse’s sweet itch under control.
What is sweet itch in horses?
Sweet itch is caused by an allergic reaction of the horse to the saliva of biting insects such as black flies (Simulium), gnats (Culicoides gnats), mosquitoes and horseflies. As soon as the days get longer, the small annoying insects are on their way, triggering the agonizingly itchy skin disease in your horse. Most often, the eczema occurs on the tail rump, the mane ridge and the belly seam, because here the hair is vertical and the mosquitoes easily penetrate to the skin. The symptoms start according to the mosquito season in March/April and decrease in October. Sweet itch of the horse is not contagious.
The imported Icelandic horse is particularly susceptible to sweet itch because there are few to no gnats in his native country. His immune system reacts susceptibly after the import.
In order to protect affected horses from sweet itch in the future, researchers are working on an effective vaccine against sweet itch using a new vaccine technology.
How do I recognize sweet itch in a horse?
You will observe the following symptoms on your horse if it suffers from sweet itch:
Severe itching associated with constant restlessness.
Rash on the skin
Hairless skin due to rubbing
Thickening of the skin
Crusting and dandruff
Weeping and bleeding wounds
Secondary bacterial infections
Note: Skin diseases caused by fungi or parasites have similar signs to sweet itch. Therefore, you should consult a veterinarian for a diagnosis.
Our tips will alleviate your horse’s symptoms
The following seven tips will help you as a horse owner to get the sweet itch symptoms of your four-legged friend under control and prevent triggers:
TIP 1: Feed your horse optimally
Experts believe that improper feeding and a damaged metabolism, which stresses the liver, promote the development of sweet itch. You can alleviate the symptoms of sweet itch by changing the composition of your horse’s feed. Make sure that your horse’s intake of protein, starch and sugar is low. Hay is suitable as a basic feed. Your horse should graze little on lush green pastures and eat only small amounts of concentrates. You must also make sure that your horse is sufficiently supplied with certain trace elements such as zinc, copper, selenium or manganese.
TIP 2: Reduce the time spent in a well-chosen pasture.
Experts advise that affected horses should only be in the pasture or paddock from about 9 a.m. to about 5 p.m. during the summer months. If you keep to these times, you will avoid the main flight times of the insects that trigger the allergy for your horse.
Use windy pastures (e.g., slopes), as many species of blackflies shun air movement. You can greatly reduce the number of blackfly and gnat bites that cause the big itch this way.
Avoid hot spots such as bodies of water, forest edges or dung heaps. Here the mosquitoes are often found.
TIP 3: Care for your horse’s coat regularly
It helps your horse if you wash it weekly with a mild horse shampoo. If you reduce the intense horse smell, your horse will no longer be interesting for insects. You can treat your horse with nourishing oils or fat-containing lotions, so that you slowly soften the crusts, loosen them from the skin and carefully remove them from the coat with a combing aid. The greasy film on the skin will prevent new mosquito bites.
TIP 4 Use home remedies to relieve symptoms
Mild home remedies from the drugstore or pharmacy can often help to alleviate the symptoms of sweet itch. Here you have to try out which remedies work most effectively on your horse by applying them over a longer period of time.
The following home remedies can contribute to the recovery from sweet itch:
You can apply milking grease thickly to the affected areas. It reduces the itching.
Penaten cream soothes irritated skin and leaves a protective barrier on the skin.
Calendula ointment promotes wound healing and inhibits inflammation.
Dexpanthenol ointment (Bepanthen®) has anti-itching, anti-inflammatory and wound-healing properties.
Betaisodona® ointment has an antiseptic effect on damaged skin.
Healing earth can support the treatment of wounds and inflammation in a natural way.
Zinc ointment acts on the skin against pathogens. It inhibits inflammation and promotes wound healing.
Ballistol oil regenerates and relaxes the skin.
Birch hair water applied to the affected areas can provide relief.
Vinegar water as a mixture of 90% water and 10% vinegar helps reduce itching as it cools.
Arnica has an anti-inflammatory, analgesic and disinfectant effect on the affected areas.
If you would like to learn more about the use of home remedies for sweet itch, please read our guide “Sweet itch in horses – help with home remedies”.
TIP 5: Pay attention to careful stable hygiene
You can also effectively combat sweet itch with proper stable and pasture hygiene. Pastures, paddocks and stalls that are cleaned out several times a day help to protect your horse from insects. Suitable equipment for mucking out makes the collection easier.
TIP 6: Put on a sweet itch blanket for your horse
An important investment to help your horse is the eczema blanket. The sweet itch blanket is a blanket made of light and tightly woven material that completely covers the horse’s body. Depending on the severity of your horse’s illness and how cooperative he is, you should consider a sweet itch blanket with head protection.
In addition to the sweet itch blanket, other products such as fly masks, fly hoods and fly fringes help to repel mosquitoes, flies and horseflies. With these aids you ensure that the small pests do not reach the preferred areas of the horse’s body.
TIP 7: Use insect repellents
Fly repellents are also useful. You can use the protective gels or sprays alone or in combination with the eczema blanket. With the spray you supply the large areas of the body such as neck, back, chest, belly, legs and croup. You apply the gel specifically with the help of a sponge in the sensitive facial region around the eyes and nostrils.
Unfortunately, sweet itch is not curable. However, you can effectively combat your horse’s suffering caused by sweet itch by taking the measures listed above. The most sensible thing to do is to test which measures work best for your horse. For this you should carry out the individual tips for treatment consistently and permanently over a certain period of time. The expenditure of time and money is worth it. Because if the symptoms appear only slightly, the horses suffer hardly from the disease and it goes to them in the summer months with the attitude in the stable as on the pasture clearly better.
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