How to stop sweet itch (summer itch) from driving you and your horse crazy!

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Summer seasonal recurrent dermatitis (SSRD), commonly called sweet itch or summer itch, is caused by an allergic reaction to the saliva of a biting gnat known as the Culicoides midge. Many people refer to them as “no-see-ums.” These bothersome fellows are active from April through October. They live and breed in ponds, marshes, and areas where water is standing and stagnant. Gnats can travel up to half a mile to find a good meal. They tend to be most active during the hours around dawn and dusk.

It takes about 48 to 72 hours after the first gnat bite for your horse to start showing symptoms. The severity of the reaction increases from year to year, as your horse becomes increasingly more sensitivity to the insect’s saliva. Dorsal feeders are the most common gnat; they feed on the skin around the ears, poll, mane, withers, rump, and tail head. Less common are the ventral feeders, who cause problems on the face, chest, and belly.

The symptoms of SSRD are hard to miss. Horses will constantly rub affected areas as a response to the intense itching. In the acute phase (early phase) the skin will become red and inflamed, and devoid of hair. Crusting and weeping sores may be present. In the chronic phase (later phase) the skin will thicken, blacken and become wrinkled. Sparse, course hair may be present. Once winter comes, the area completely heals up.

There are several measures you can take to limit your horse’s exposure to these annoying insects.

  • Install fine mesh screen in your barn to keep the gnats out. (This is not always practical, however.)
  • Circulate the air with ceiling and stall fans to discourage the gnats from hanging around.
  • Keep horses stalled an hour prior to and after dawn and dusk to reduce exposure to the bugs when they are most actively feeding.
  • Keep stables at least a half mile away from marshes and swamps.
  • Ensure pastures are well-drained to reduce stagnant water from collecting.
  • Keep water tanks clean and filled with fresh water.
  • Use insecticides and repellents to kill gnats and keep them off your horse.
  • Use a fly sheet with tail flap and hood to cover vulnerable areas.

The sooner you notice SSRD and start on a program of treatment and prevention the better off your horse will be. A horse can do a lot of damage in a short period of time when they start rubbing manes and tails.

When you first notice symptoms, take immediate action to reduce your horse’s exposure to these nasty gnats by following the recommendations above. Contact your vet and ask him or her about corticosteroid and antihistamine treatments.

Coating the itchy area daily with an oily substance, like baby oil or Skin So Soft, is often beneficial. Midges don’t like the oily film and will avoid it. Be sure to reapply the oil often, as it tends to wear off as the day goes on.

Be careful with preparations that contain eucalyptus oil, citronella oil, tea tree oil, or mineral oil, as they may cause additional skin irritation. Try them somewhere else on your horse first. Watch the area for 24 hours, noting the appearance of any heat or swelling. Don’t use any preparation that causes irritation.

Supplementing with omega-3 fatty acids has been proven to reduce skin inflammation and mitigate allergic response. Fish oils contain the highest level of beneficial omega-3 fatty acids. When adding a fish oil supplement to your horse’s diet, do so slowly. Add a small amount at a time. In the beginning pour the oil on the feed and let it sit for 30 minutes before mixing it in so the smell is less powerful. Most horses will readily eat fish oil once they become accustomed to the new flavor.

 

Article written by KPP staff.

Copyright (C) 2012 Kentucky Performance Products, LLC.   All rights reserved.


Article sponsored by Contribute; supports optimal omega-3 fatty acid balance.

When health issues arise, always seek the advice of a licensed veterinarian who can help you choose the correct course of action for your horse. Supplements are intended to maintain healthy systems and support recovery and healing. They are not intended to treat or cure illness or injury.


About Kentucky Performance Products, LLC:

Since 1998, Kentucky Performance Products has simplified a horse owner’s search for research-proven nutritional horse supplements that meet the challenges facing modern horses. KPP horse supplements target specific nutritional needs and are formulated to complement today’s feeds, thus safeguarding against over-supplementation. Each product is scientifically formulated and made with high-quality ingredients at certified manufacturing facilities. Kentucky Performance Products is proud to offer a quality assurance promise backed by a money-back guarantee. Kentucky Performance Products brings you horse supplements you can count on because the horse that matters to you, matters to us.

Category : Health & Management | Other Topics of Interest | Tips and Topics

11 Comments


  1. Susie Ardron
    2 years ago

    What can I use to calm mane tail rubbing

    Reply
    • It is important to identify what is causing the tail rubbing. I would suggest having your vet check the horse to rule out things like pinworms and bacterial infection. If the tail rubbing is caused by insect hypersensitivity, the best way to stop it is by limiting exposure to the insects, as outlined in the article. Supplementing with omega-3 fatty acids (Contribute) will also help mitigate the skin reaction and calm the itching. There is some evidence that oatmeal-based preparations will reduce itching, but it won’t help much if the bugs are still biting the horse. In some horses, good old-fashioned zinc oxide (diaper rash ointment) is soothing and also acts as a barrier against the insects. Check in with your vet, as he or she can prescribe topical and systemic steroid treatments if necessary.

      Reply

  2. Anne
    2 years ago

    In some horses, good old-fashioned zinc oxide (diaper rash ointment) is soothing and also acts as a barrier against the insects.

    I have used Zinc Ointment successfully on my own skin; the Zinc works wonders!!
    Maybe the mare rubs her tail because she has some type of “mites”. I have heard when a Mammal is susceptible to Bug Bites they might get “B-Complex Vitamins!!

    Reply

  3. Anne
    2 years ago

    “I think the Mare might try the Oatmeal based “poultice”; the Oatmeal will dry mites”; I doubt “No See Ums” could get thru a thick Oatmeal plaster: I would try mixing Oatmeal Flour and water; apply around and under the tail; allow to dry rinse.

    At the very least; the Mare will get Magnesium from the Oatmeal. Paste;
    Thanks “Kentucky Performance”; I think your Nutritional Minutes are the best!”AR@

    Reply

  4. Anne
    2 years ago

    Oatmeal Paste: “Oatmeal; Oat flour; water”; mix to proper consistency; apply dry rinse; (put this right under the mare’s tail esp around where she rubs; apply daily.”; put this around the mane too; the oatmeal “dries up any mites; fungus; no see ums.

    Reply

  5. Niki
    1 year ago

    My horse has had some patches on her forehead appearing, they are dry and crusty with sores appearing in them, like its described above. We have had her in a pasture with a slew in it, she spent most of her day in the still water. Once we discovered her patches, we moved her to a new pen away from the water. We are using A product named M-T-G on her head, and no know improvement have been showing. Would a fly mask be an ok cover for her face?

    Reply
    • Hi Niki,

      I suggest you contact your veterinarian and have him/her rule out a bacterial infection or other skin condition. Using a fly mask to help keeps the bugs off the irritated area may be helpful. When using a fly mask be sure it does not cause further irritation by rubbing the problem area. Always use a clean, dry fly-mask to reduce the incidence of secondary bacterial or fungal infection. I keep two fly masks handy so that I always have a clean one available. Wash your fly masks frequently in soapy water, rinse well and air dry.

      Karen J Isberg
      President

      Reply

  6. Dianne Van Dreel
    1 year ago

    could petroleum jelly be used?

    Reply

    • Karen
      1 year ago

      Petroleum jelly, like mineral oil can cause irritation so try it on a small area first to see if it irritates your horse.

      Reply

  7. Baillie
    11 months ago

    My Red Mare, has hives, and itches, and is losing her hair…well she came to me this way and under weight, I have put ALOT of weight on her and I have tried everything to clear up her skin :( nothing so far is working. She not use to being handled a whole lot, so a fly sheet is out of the question (for now). she is only 11 years old but looks like she 30 cause her skins is so wrinkly and dry and just horrible looking my poor Red. I will be trying Diaper Cream. Ill do anything to try and help my girl get some relief. She has a vet Appoint for Wednesday the 27th to get a allergy shot, but until then and in-between I need help for my Mare.
    Thanks so much

    Reply

    • Karen
      11 months ago

      Hello Baillie Jean,
      Skin and hair coat problems can be very frustrating and hard to clear up. Our first recommendation is always to consult a veterinarian for treatment options, which you have already done. Please follow the recommendations in this article as they can help tremendously.

      With regard to nutritional support, to help in the reduction of overall inflammation and mitigate any allergic response Red might be having, I recommend providing additional omega-3 fatty acids in the diet. Omega-3 fatty acids are research-proven to be anti-inflammatory in nature. Kentucky Performance Products’ Contribute omega-3 fatty acid supplement guarantees a level of 10,780 mg of omega-3 per ounce. A complete complement of omega-3 is supplied: 3,210 mg of EPA and 2,320 mg of DHA, both from high-quality fish oil and alpha-linolenic acid in the form of flax oil. Contribute guarantees an 8:1 ratio of omega-3 to omega-6 fatty acids.

      In your situation I would start feeding Red one ounce of Contribute per day. Since Contribute is primarily fish oil it might be a flavor Red is unaccustomed to. If necessary, mix Contribute with some applesauce or yogurt until she gets used to the flavor. When introducing Contribute to the diet, do so slowly over 7 days. Start with a small amount (1/4 tablespoon) mixed in the feed and increase the amount daily until you reach the full dose. Once a horse becomes accustomed to the new taste they will eat Contribute with no problem. One gallon of Contribute is a 128-supply at 1 ounce per day. You can feed up to 2 ounces per day, in which case you would feed 1 ounce per feeding.

      To help your girl strengthen her immune system (which will help in the battle with skin dermatitis) and support muscle development as she gains condition, I would recommend 3 scoops (3,000 IU) of Elevate Maintenance Powder per day. Elevate contains a highly bioavailable source of natural vitamin E. Natural vitamin E is a critical nutrient often missing from the equine diet, as its primary source is fresh green grass. Horses grazing 18 or more hours a day on good pasture can meet their maintenance requirements, but given Red’s challenges, her requirement is more than likely much higher and she many even be battling a deficiency given her past history. You can split the Elevate amount into 1 ½ scoops per feeding or feed it all at once. Once you have her skin cleared up you can drop the amount fed down to 2 scoops (2,000 IU) per day. If she is on good pasture for at least 12 hours per day, then reduce the amount to 1 scoop (1,000 IU) while pasture is available. Increase the amount back to 2 scoops (2,000 IU) in the winter once the pasture dries up. A 2-lb jar of Elevate Maintenance Powder will last you 43 days when feeding 3 scoops per day.

      I hope this helps clear up you mare’s skin problems. If you have any further questions, please let me know.
      Karen at KPP

      Reply

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