Affecting three to five per cent of all horses in the UK, sweet itch, or Summer Seasonal Recurrent Dermatitis, is caused by an allergy to the saliva in the bite of Culicoides midges. It is particularly prevalent in the summer months, when midges are most active and all breeds and types of horses, ponies and donkeys are susceptible to the condition, although some breeds are more so than others. It is also thought that sweet itch may be hereditary and stress may be a trigger. The disease is not contagious, however if a premises is particularly susceptible to midges then more than one horse may develop the condition.
Midges usually attack the mane, withers, back, rump or dock of the horse, so it is often these areas that are affected.
Symptoms include severe itching and hair loss, commonly in the tail and mane. The skin can become bald, inflamed, crusty and sore and as the condition progresses it thickens, becomes wrinkled and the hair becomes sparse and coarse with flaky dandruff. Exudative dermatitis may develop which can lead to secondary bacterial infection. These lesions are often found along the spine at the mane, forelock or tail and, in more severe cases, they spread down the body to the abdomen, saddle area, sides of the head, sheath and legs.
The itching can become so severe that the horse scratches itself on anything in reach. Excessive mutual grooming from field companions is common and a horse may also shake its head or become restless if flying insects are close by. In addition, a horse’s temperament can change - it can either become lethargic or agitated and impatient, with a lack of concentration when ridden.
During the winter, the skin may totally recover. However the disease often returns in the spring at the first contact with flies. It is therefore essential for owners to be aware of the potential risk of purchasing a horse during winter when there are little or no signs. If a horse has a mane and tail that look suspicious, it is advisable to inspect it closely for signs of hair loss which may suggest sweet itch.
Prevention and control
Sweet itch is notoriously difficult to manage and once a horse develops the condition it can recur every summer, proving a management nightmare for its owner.
Prevention and control should include:
• Moving the horse away from standing water and boggy land
• Stabling at dawn and dusk and the use of fly repellents
• Use of Cavalesse sachets and Gel*
• Fly protection rugs
Cavalesse® and Cavalesse® Topical, are easy-to-administer skin care products containing nicotinamide, which help to maintain healthy skin in horses prone to summer skin allergies. Cavalesse®
All preventative measures should be instigated in March and April before the midge season starts to prevent the midges from biting and starting the inflammatory process.
For further information about Cavalesse or to see Case Studies click here or call Pet Dispensary on 0845 6787838. Pet Dispensary is offering Cavalesse at a reduced price for a limited time and a free hoofpick with every order.
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