Summertime is when we see a lot of itchy horse’s and the most common cause is sweet itch. This is an allergic reaction to the saliva of Culicoides commonly called midges. It can be intensely itchy with horses affected rubbing their hair off and even causing open sores. It usually affects the areas where Culicoides bite which is along the top line, especially the mane and tail. It can also be on the belly of the horse. Horses with sweet itch can also be allergic to other types pf biting insect as well.
The best way to manage these horses is by avoiding the flies/midges and there are many ways to do this. Firstly, using good quality fly rugs which prevent the flies landing to bite. Keeping horses stabled when flies are at their most active during the day and at dusk, so turning horses out at night instead of during the day can make a difference. Fields with ponds or streams will have more insects so avoid using these at the height of summer where possible. Fly repellents are also important and permethrin based ones are very effective one we commonly use is Deosect. Regular application of a good fly repellent is very important this is made easier with Deosect as it only needs to be applied fortnightly and as it is diluted a small bottle goes a long way!
With some horses’ these measures aren’t enough and they need veterinary treatment. Often this is because the horse has rubbed itself causing more inflammation and therefore further itchiness. The most common treatments are steroid based creams or sprays to reduce the itchiness and inflammation of the skin and anti-histamines to reduce the allergic reaction. Specialised shampoos can also help soothe the skin and treat secondary bacterial infections if they are present. The sooner we break the cycle of itchiness leading to rubbing and inflammation leading to more itchiness the better results we have and can stop the cycle more quickly.
Sweet itch isn’t the only cause of itchy skin in horses though it is very common. We regularly see and treat horses with bacterial skin infections, leg-mites and lice. All of these require specialised medication or management and it can be hard to identify the cause of the itchiness straight away or it can be a combination of problems. But careful treatment and tests to find the root of the problem means we have a good outcome in managing these cases so they don’t rub themselves raw every year.
We also get horses who are allergic to things other than insects and the most accurate test to work out what they are allergic to is Intradermal allergy testing (IDAT). IDAT is the injection of small amounts of different substances (allergens) into the skin and then measuring the horse’s response to it. The allergens used include pollens, animal skin cells, grasses and insects. We also use a substance which will create a big reaction and one which should create no reaction. These are used as guides to measure all the other reactions and whether it is a significant allergic response.
You have to be careful that the horse has not had any medication which reduces allergic responses before the test such as steroids or antihistamines so often there is a delay before testing during treatment. But IDAT can allow us to avoid specific substances the horse is allergic to such as particular grasses, house dust mites or certain pollens etc. this avoidance can make a dramatic difference. However, it also allows us to formulate tailor made immunotherapy which can be used to desensitise horses to the substances they are allergic to, this is a series of injection over several months but can have a dramatic effect on the allergic response.
Now that holiday season is upon us please give us a quick call or drop us an email to let us know who will be looking after your horse or pony whilst you are away and whether they will be authorised to call us out if required. This can save a lot of time in an emergency.
GETTING THE MOST OUT OF YOUR VISIT
To be able to give you the best possible service our vets want to maximise their time with you when on a visit. To assist with this please make sure that your horse or pony is in and ready when the vet arrives. This means the vet can maximise the consultation time and then have plenty of time to discuss treatment plans and any concerns you may have rather than helping you chase a reluctant patient around a field!
Once we have done a vaccination for you our system will automatically store the details so we can issue a reminder for when the next one is due. We send reminders by text and will follow this up with a postal reminder in a couple of weeks if an appointment has not been booked. The reminders do go out well in advance to give you plenty of time to book on the Free Visit Days. Once they have left us we cannot guarantee that the reminder will arrive with you so would always recommend that you keep a note of when the vaccination is due.
FARM AND EQUINE The Barn, Holly Tree Farm, Holmes Chapel Road, Lower Withington, Macclesfield, Cheshire, SK11 9DT