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  What is Sweet Itch ?
  Culicoides midge - the culprit
  Which animals are affected?
  Where does it occur?
  Causes of Sweet Itch
  Sweet Itch Symptoms
  Is there a cure?
  Insecticides & Sprays
  Rugs & blankets
  Comments & Reviews
  Stress in Horses
  Equestrian Links
  Equine Vets, Horse Vets
  Sweet Itch News & Research


Reduce your horse's exposure to midges by employing good stable management with these techniques:-

a) PREVENT ACCESS AT MIDGE FEEDING TIME - dusk and dawn - stable your horse, pony or donkey, erect midge screens, use a ceiling fan, close doors and windows. Spray with natural insect repellent with ingredients such as garlic, tea tree and eucalyptus.

Horses Find Fans Immediately.
Susan White a professor at The University of Georgia recommended in 2002 that "fans in the stall or run-in sheds where horses rest (should be out of sunlight) and.."that you should.."direct them at all levels of the horse--at his legs and ventral abdomen as well as topline. This requires more than one box fan.

"I've had clients hang fans in the pasture run-in sheds," said White. "The horses find them immediately." Extract from www.thehorse.com

(b) PREVENT MIDGES COLONISING OR INVADING YOUR STABLE ENVIRONMENT: get rid of rotting vegetation, leaves, straw, hay, puddles and other forms of standing water in or near your yard. Remove horse droppings from the yard and pasture as they attract flies and midges.

(c) AVOID MIDGY PLACES . The Culicoides midge loves a dank, humid environment. So avoid pasturing your horse with Sweet Itch in wet or boggy fields, near water or close to hedgerows and trees. Do your best to replicate an environment which midges hate - not easy as this generally involves moving to a different location. A windy site or a dry open hillside like the chalk downs are often ideal. Midges only fly a few hundred yards at best. A move of half a mile, say, up-hill or closer to the sea may suffice.

Horses, with Sweeet Itch, which don't mind the taste of garlic or cider vinegar in their diet often find they are relatively fly-free. Every horse reacts differently to food and dietary supplements. What works for one won't work for another. An in-feed insect repellent works on the basis that plant extracts exude through the horse's skin making it an unattractive place for midges to land.
There are herbal supplements which you can add to the horse's feed but some are quite strong tasting and may need the addition of a little apple juice, honey, carrots, mint, apples or other natural sweetener to make them palliative. But it's best to start the in-feed regime well before the midge season starts to build up an effective barrier.

See our comment below CUT OUT SWEET THINGS. It may be quite difficult to decide priorities. Likewise with garlic which is reputed to worsen the allergic response in alot of horses!

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(e) PROVIDE BARRIERS - Sweet Itch rugs, blankets, masks and hoods.
Make sure you use a specially made Sweet Itch rug or barrier which prevent the tiny midges from penetrating the material and biting the horse. Some horse fly sheets are made to deter larger horse flies but allow midges access. Obviously, the latter are to be avoided. A real Sweet Itch rug is designed to prevent midges getting in around the legs, belly or tail of your horse. It's worthwhile looking out for product comments and reviews made by users in horse chat forums.Only a few make udder and sheath covers presently. There is a lot to choosing a suitable blanket for your horse

Whichever blanket you choose there is a big risk it'll become shredded in no time at all when rubbed against fence posts and hedges, unless you've, in the meanwhile, succeeded in introducing an itch reduction programme.

Please refer to infeed itch reduction formulae and flaxseed (linseed in UK). Consult Global Herbs your veterinary herbalist. Click to send for brochure.

Some horse owners use electric fencing around their pasture. However, if you prevent your horse from scratching without reducing the itching you just ratchet up the stress - a very bad idea Stress may already be a factor in your horse's proneness to Sweet Itch, and further stress could just make matters worse. Suggest you read Stephen Ashdown's article on stress (Click here).

See our section on Sweet Itch rugs and blankets for more information.

Before using either a repellent or insecticide we recommend you do a 'patch test' to determine how your horse will react to the product

. Professor Susan White says 20-30% of problem horses she sees are allergic to pyrethrins.. Click here to read Common Insecticide Repellent May cause Allergic Reactions.

Establishing tne best regime for your horse with Sweet Itch is a question of assessing the relative risk, and cost, of different treatments.

Horses often lick each other in mutual grooming and any toxic substance on the skin may be ingested with harmful results to organs such as the liver. Strong chemicals in sprays or wipes are best avoided.

For more on repellents and insecticides used for the prevention of Sweet Itch please refer to the separate section entitled 'Insecticides and Sprays'

Please refer to Autan and Smidge, etc. Click here for Autan. www.purpleturtle.co.uk. Go to back page (News) for Smidge.

Keep your horse and rug as clean as possible as dirt and sweat attract midges and flies. Best to have two rugs, one in use, the other in the wash. Hose down your horse after a ride or on a hot day and wash regularly - but not excessively - with a gentle, insecticidal shampoo. And, the udder and sheath - even the back of the legs - will need regular applications of your favourite insect repellent(s).

Washing a horse too much risks drying out and cracking the skin - increasing the itchiness - and even of inviting bacterial invasion, making the problem worse. Sweet Itch horses appear to be prone to skin build up, some sources suggest, and excessive dandruff in winter months, especially in the mane and tail.Of course itchiness may be from another cause or causes; and you may have to consult your vet before you establish what's going on.

The Pruritus Threshold
The point at which a horse responds to itchy stimuli is called the Pruritus Threshold and varies from horse to horse. A horse may have lice and not know it if its Pruritus Threshold hasn't been reached.

Pruritus is caused by (a) allergies like Sweet Itch (b) infections and (c) ectoparasites such as biting insects.

"Biting insects including lice, midges, black flies and horse flies can trigger cases of pruritus. The distribution of the sore areas, such as the classic rubbed mane and tail associated with sweet itch, can help identify if parasites are responsible." However.." it is common for more than one problem to be present" according to Sue Patterson, MRCVS, writing in the Horse and Hound.

A lot of research has been done on the affects of adding crushed flaxseed to the diet of Sweet Itch horses and the management of the condition. It appears to quieten the allergic response. Discuss with your veterinary herbalist on ways of adding it to your horse's diet. In the meantime if you want to acquaint yourself with the original research go here. Flaxseed (Linum usitatissimum) supplementation.
Note to researchers: if you are involved in research into flaxseed (linseed in the UK) for Sweet Itch and wish to update us, we'd love to hear from you. Please email me. Editor.

How to feed flaxseed to your horse by Liz Goldsmith - a personal view - click here.

Watch out for Chia Seed - Click here

Neem Oil - An Essential Oil from the Neem tree - with a lardy consistency and very strong smell - is an unusual natural insecticide and insect repellent which has found favour on its own and mixed with other ingredients for dealing with parasites. There is anecdotal evidence too that it helps rid the horse of excessive winter dandruff. Warm gently if still lardy and then rub the oil into the skin and leave for at least one hour, preferably longer, before applying a suitable horse-friendly gentle insecticidal shampoo. For Neem Oil go to Pureneem.co.uk

Its insect repellent properties help to deter the Sweet Itch midge. Used by some horse owners early in the season as a preventative measure.

Neem Overview.
An Overview by Tracey on The Shire Horse Forum

You may have wondered why this ailment is called Sweet Itch.
Allergies existed well before they were medically 'discovered'. The term Sweet Itch is believed to have been in common parlance in former times - though our horse history buffs are still looking for the first reference. But, it makes sense when you realise molasess, sugary and sweet feeds, rich spring grass with a high Fructans content and sweet treats all exacerbate the condition and, consequently,should be avoided like the plague. Cut Out Sweet Things! Here is a discussion.

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