A well-deserved ride on a mild summer evening – what could be nicer? But suddenly your horse is unusually nervous and never misses an opportunity to scratch itself? In the summer months, mosquito-like insects such as the black fly are increasingly on the move and make life difficult for your faithful companion. As a horse owner, you have to be careful here: If your horse is exposed to the stings over a long period of time, it can develop a sweet itch.
What is summer eczema in horses?
They’re a horse’s nightmare on warm, balmy summer evenings – midges and black flies. The bites of the insects are particularly unpleasant for the horse and cause itching. But why is that? The saliva of the mosquito-like insects contains a substance that triggers a kind of allergy in horses. The horse’s immune system is hypersensitive to this substance. Strictly speaking, saliva contains special proteins that represent an antigen. This enters the horse’s organism through the bite. The horse’s body reacts to the antigen with antibodies. The antigens are fought and an excessive immune reaction occurs.
If horses are at the mercy of the annoying pests over a longer period of time, a so-called “ sweet itch in horses ” can develop. However, it is not possible to predict when the horse will develop such eczema and why. One thing is certain: it can affect horses of all ages, breeds, and sexes. If the immune response to the mosquito antigens is very violent, the horse is sensitized to the saliva. From this point on, one also speaks of summer eczema. The horse then developed an allergy to the saliva.
How do I recognize the sweet itch on my horse?
But how do you know if your loved one is suffering from summer eczema? There are some symptoms that can indicate eczema. The first symptoms to be recognized are usually those caused by itching. The itching is so unpleasant for the horse that it starts to chafe and thickens the skin. Then you can easily recognize that. With these symptoms you can assume sweet itch in horses in most cases:
- Severe itching, nervousness, restlessness, chafing
- skin rash
- skin thickening
- Chafed areas without hair
- flaking and crusting
- weeping wounds
- Open and bloody spots
- secondary infections
How can I prevent summer eczema in horses?
There are a number of things you can do to prevent a full-blown sweet itch from occurring in the first place. The intensity and frequency of the itching can therefore be positively influenced. However, this requires discipline and continuity in the care of your horse. There are two main goals in prevention:
- Avoid contact with mosquito-like insects.
- Reduce clinical symptoms.
Of course, you won’t be able to keep every blackfly away from your horse. However, there are a few tips on how you can best protect your horse from nasty tormentors. Make sure that your darling is not near streams, ponds, and forest edges in summer. These places are considered blackfly hotspots. These places should be avoided, especially in the morning and at dusk.
Read More: Hoof cancer in horses
Sweet itch in horses: how is it diagnosed?
If your sweetheart is already suffering from severe itching, the causes must first be investigated. In many cases it is summer eczema – in some cases itching also indicates other diseases. In order to be certain and to help your faithful four-footed companion in the best possible way, allergy tests are carried out by the veterinarian. The tests can exclude various allergens such as pollen, fungal spores, grass, insects, or special feed.
Another diagnostic option is the elimination method. Your horse is kept away from certain allergens (e.g. mosquitoes) over a longer period of time. If the symptoms disappear, it is very likely that the horse has a sweet itch. Other observations can also provide information: Does your horse recover quickly in the winter months? Do the symptoms appear with the start of the mosquito season? Does Keeping Mosquitoes Away Relieve Symptoms? If you can answer these questions with “yes”, it is most likely summer eczema.
What are the treatment options?
The sweet itch was clearly diagnosed. But what are the treatment options and what are the chances of recovery? Avoiding allergies is one of the most important treatment measures. This means that your horse must be protected as best as possible from the annoying black flies. Drug therapies can often be avoided in this way. Protect your horse with full-body blankets and effective insect repellents.
If eczema has already spread, drug therapy is often used. The horse is then given anti-inflammatory cortisone to relieve itching. In some cases, histamine blockers are also used to relieve allergy symptoms. Histamine blockers are also used in people who have hay fever.
In the case of summer eczema in horses, additional therapeutic measures are often taken. In addition to avoiding allergies and drug therapy, anti-itch shampoos and lotions with oat extract are also used. If the skin is already severely chafed, open, and bleeding, the wounds must be treated regularly.
Another treatment option is the so-called ASIT therapy (allergen-specific immunotherapy). It is also called hyposensitization and has a success rate of 70 to 80%. The horse’s immune system is slowly accustomed to the allergy-triggering substance by coming into contact with increasing allergen concentrations. Over time, the immune system gets used to the substance and an allergic reaction in the horse’s body can be reduced. The desensitization therapy is best started towards the end of the mosquito season in order to be as well prepared as possible for the next grazing season.
What do I have to consider when eating eczema?
Eczema should be fed low in protein. Adapt hay and alfalfa as a protein source to your horse’s age, size, weight, and performance. Don’t feed them extra protein in the form of concentrates.
How do I properly disinfect a wound on my horse?
First, clean the wound thoroughly. You may also use a healing ointment. This is important to prevent further inflammation and infection.
What can I do about dandruff on my horse?
Wash out the scales as best you can. You can also use oil to keep the skin moisturized. The skin is soothed and it binds the scales. Finally, wash out the oil every 2-3 days so that the pores open and the skin can breathe freely again.