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Sweet Itch

Spring and summer are the worst time of year for Sweet Itch in horses.

Sweet Itch is an allergic reaction to the saliva of the common midge, a small fly found especially around wet areas. The midges bite your horse and their bodies release a substance called histamine which makes the horse very itchy. Your horse will then scratch up against fences and gates especially around the mane and tail areas. The scratching can cause hair loss and the skin to become raw and infected. Severe cases have little or no mane or tail and can often lose weight and body condition. Some horses are more prone than others to this allergy and will invariably suffer from the condition year after year.

It is not something that can be cured; it must be managed, just like hay fever in people.
Midges tend to emerge in highest numbers around dusk and dawn. If your horse suffers from this allergy, it is best to stable them at these times of the day, as midges do not tend to be found in large numbers in stables and buildings. Fly spray can be used to detract the midges from biting the horse. This can be sprayed all over the horse. Garlic in feed supplement can be fed as this seems to ward off midges. In extremely bad cases, a very fine mesh net rug and head cover can be used, which prevents the midges from actual contact with the horse’s skin so they can not bite your horse.
If your horse has bad sweet itch, consult your vet for advice. Topical creams can be used on any areas that have been rubbed raw. If there is infection of these areas, your vet may prescribe antibiotic powders or injections. Fly prevention treatments such as ‘Switch’ should be used as the smell of these deters midges from biting your horse. Anti-histamine capsules and tablets can also be used as these reduce the amount of histamine the body releases and thus reduces the irritation caused by midge bites.

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