The midges are back!
What is Sweet Itch?
Sweet Itch is an insect hypersensitivity (allergy) affecting around 5% of the UK horse population. It affects horses seasonally, usually March until October in the UK (weather dependent!). The biting midge (Culicoides species) is responsible. When the midge bites the horse, they react to these bites and become very itchy, with classic rubbing of the mane, tail and underneath the belly. Repeated rubbing will cause hair loss, thickening of the skin and sores.
A few facts about midges:
- Sweet Itch is a seasonal problem as the midges need the right conditions to breed: warm and humid. Usually, the temperature needs to be consistently above 5oC.
- The biting midge breeds in standing water such as ponds, marshes or even water troughs or stagnant puddles.
- They are poor fliers and do not like windy weather.
- Only the female feeds and she is most active at dawn and dusk.
Knowing these facts will help us to support our itchy friends! Tips for caring for your horse, pony or donkey with sweet itch:
Firstly stop the midge biting, this is easier said than done! We know midges are most active at dawn and dusk, so stabling at these times of day can help.
Using fly rugs to cover as much of the mane, tail and belly as possible can help prevent the midge biting. Try to start rugging before the signs of the first midge to maximise success and reduce rug shredding!
Midges are weak fliers and don’t like wind, so fans in stables and turning out into the windiest field will be beneficial, or even creating wind tunnels in the field. Insect meshes over windows and doorways in the stables may also help keep those pesky midges out.
Good quality fly repellents can deter the midge from landing on your horse in the first place.
Topical skin products can help to sooth the skin and deter the midge from biting through the layer of product. We would recommend a small patch test before using a new product on your horse’s skin.
Minimizing midge breeding sites around your yard, by preventing boggy/ marshy areas developing and frequent cleaning and refreshment of water buckets and troughs. Regular removal of manure from pastures and removal of muck piles away from the stables and fields.
Nutritional support for the skin, such as an omega 3 fatty acid supplement to help with overall skin and coat health.
Occasional bathing with cold water and soothing shampoos can help to reduce the itch.
Care for any sores or broken skin to reduce the risk of infection.
It is not recommended to breed from horses affected by Sweet Itch.
Speak to your Vet for specific advice as they will be able to discuss all the options including prescription medication as appropriate with you.
Some suggestions for your sweet itch shopping list!