Understanding Exactly What Causes Sweet Itch In Horses

Understanding Exactly What Causes Sweet Itch In Horses


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Sweet Itch is a problem for many equine owners. In the UK, Sweet Itch is at its most prevalent during the months of April to October. In other parts of the world, the sweet itch season varies. This being of major concern to a significant minority of horse owners naturally prompts the following question – […]




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Sweet Itch is a problem for many equine owners. In the UK, Sweet Itch is at its most prevalent during the months of April to October. In other parts of the world, the sweet itch season varies.

This being of major concern to a significant minority of horse owners naturally prompts the following question – what causes sweet itch? Further details can be found by clicking on this link.

The Culicoides midge is the main cause of Sweet Itch. The Culicoides midge will land on your horse, pony or donkey to feed. In doing so, the midge leaves behind saliva at the site of the minuscule, but by open, wound. It is this saliva that acts as an irritant and prompts hypersensitivity in your animal. Indeed, because of its all-embracing nature, the condition is sometimes referred to as equine Sweet itch.

There are numerous blood feeding species of the Culicoides midge. For each species that seek out horses for their next meal usually concentrate their attack on a particular region of the horse’s anatomy. The main areas of the animal that are subject to attack are the head, ears, mane, withers, rump and tail head. Other parts of the body that are less susceptible but nevertheless may be inflicted with Sweet Itch are the animal’s underside and legs.

Other insects are also known to induce, or worsen, symptoms of Sweet Itch.

The black fly of the genus Simulium is closely linked to outbreaks of Sweet Itch. In England, the Blandford fly, Simulium posticatum, has been identified as raising health concerns, particularly in and around the county of Dorset.

Horse flies, horn flies, stable flies and mosquito bites have all be suspect of precipitating the hypersensitivity that develops into Sweet Itch. However, it is generally accepted that the Culicoides midge is the main culprit.

The Culicoides midge multiplies during the Spring and Summer months and its degree of activity is highly dependent upon climatic conditions. Like all insects, the midge is cold blooded and is most active when the temperature is higher. The midge also needs stretches of calm water, boggy areas or, at the very least, moist conditions to complete its life-cycle.

The ideal time of the day for the midges is from dusk to dawn. The ideal conditions are warm with little wind.

There is some good news, though. Many horses never show any symptoms of Sweet Itch . As in people, each horse will react differently to different irritants. Thankfully, many horses are unaffected by midge bite saliva.

Many of the popular Deet and Benzyl Benzoate based formulations used to counter Sweet Itch can sometimes leave the horse keeper’s skin chapped and split. Derma Shield see www.dermashield.co.uk is a superior quality hand protectant mousse lotion that helps prevent this.

We wish every horse owner a summer devoid of Sweet Itch.

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