What is Sweet Itch?
Sweet itch is a skin condition caused by an allergy to the saliva of small midges called culicoides. The midges swarm for an hour or two around sunset and are active from around April to October. They tend to bite equines around the tail, head, withers and base of the mane and they like to breed on wet or marshy land. The midges saliva causes an intense irritation in thousands of horses and ponies.
Sweet Itch appears in varying degrees of severity in horses of various breeds and there seems to be a genetic link.
What are the symptoms?
Affected horses are intensely itchy and mainly rub their manes, tails and sometimes the underside of their bellies until they are red raw and virtually bald in these areas.
The fly bites form blisters, which can weep, causing crusting, scabs and scaling. Open sores can often develop. Skin thickening and hair loss pigmentation may occur long-term.
Controlling Sweet Itch
There is no cure for the condition - it can only be controlled. This can be done in various ways:
• AVOID CONTACT WITH MIDGES. Stable the horse during the times when the midges are about. This is normally between 4am - 10am and 4pm - 10pm. If your horse has to be outside during these times, you could try to have a muslin summer sheet and neck cover made. A sweat rug type lining would hold the muslin away from the skin and prevent the midges biting directly through the muslin. There are also specialist rugs available to combat sweet itch.
• USE FLY REPELLENTS and insecticides to prevent the midges being attracted to the horse. Insecticides containing pyrethrins and benzyl benzoate have been used for some time with success.
• STEROIDS can be used to control the horse's allergic responses. The steroids reduce the reaction and the itchiness to make the horse feel much more comfortable.
• AVOID WET CONDITIONS and grazing on marshy land.
From Horse Active