Sweet itch in horses, also known as pruritus, describes the unpleasant sensation that leads horses to bite, scratch or rub at their skin. It typically appears in spring and settles down, virtually disappearing, during the winter months.
Here are some top tips for this summer.
Signs to watch out for:
- Mild to severe itching and rubbing, usually along the mane, back and tail
- Loss of tail and mane hair
- Bald patches, which can look ugly and grey due to permanent hair loss and skin damage
- Areas of sore, open, broken skin, which tend to bleed
- In some cases, itching along the legs and under the belly
How to prevent Sweet-Itch:
- Call your vet to investigate your horse’s skin problem
- Use insect repellents or insecticidal sprays regularly to reduce attack from biting insects
- Many horses can be controlled by being moved to a hilltop field or to windy areas. Small midge breeding areas, such as water troughs, need to be cleaned often
- Stable your horse from about 4pm to 8am when midges are at their worst
- Use a fly sheet, or specialist Sweet-Itch rug to help avoid contact with the biting insects
- Only rely on corticosteroids as a last result because of the risk of setting off laminitis
Soothing emollient shampoos, solutions and sprays can also be used to great effect and increase your horse's comfort.
There are three main factors which cause Sweet-Itch; biting insects, infections and allergies. Recognising the symptoms and catching them early could make all the difference to your horse's health and happiness this summer!