Sweet itch (SI), or Summer Seasonal Recurrent Dermatitis (SSRD), is thought to be caused by an allergic reaction to the bite of the culicoides midge. The body responds to a bite by producing an antibody from the horse’s immune system. This binds to the allergens producing histamine amongst other factors. In a horse suffering from SI, this immune response triggers a delayed hyper-sensitivity to insect bites and results from an inappropriate response to their saliva, which actually contains harmless protein. Skin cells are attacked ‘by mistake’ and the resulting cell damage causes the symptoms described as SI. This action can make the horse’s skin inflamed and itchy and can lead to broken skin where the horse has rubbed itself raw.
Any factor that affects the horses immune system can make it more susceptible to SI, as can hereditary issues that will be shown in an Iridology Consult . Such factors may include exposure to pesticides and herbicides, as these have been shown to have a devastating effect on the mirobiome.
The allergic response takes place on the skin, around the area where the insect feeds. Many horses become so itchy that they rub / bite themselves raw, which can in turn lead to infections as the skin becomes broken . The most common areas are the mane and tail, although in severe cases large areas of the body will be affected.
Treatment and Prevention
There are many areas that may need addressing to resolve the symptoms of sweet itch. Not all may be applicable for one horse but if you have tried (and failed) to address sweet itch in your horse or pony, the following areas may need to be changed in terms of routine and diet and may help resolving the situation and making the summers more bearable for them.
1. Diet – keep diet as simple as possible. Most ponies are unable to cope with the high levels of protein and sugars in many processed feeds. This can lead to toxins and sugars remaining in the blood. This is turn will attract the midge to feed on their blood. Ensure all feeds (if needed at all) are molasses free! Also see Nutritional Supplements below! Feeding organic is key, as exposure in the feed, hay or pasture to herbicides and pestices will devastate the microbiome with many knock-on detrimental health effects.
2. Barrier techniques – this relates to the use of rugs and fly masks that prevent the midges landing on the body and biting. You may also want to think about screens over stable doors if you are in an area that is very affected by midges. For horses wearing a fly rug take care to ensure your horse doesn’t get too hot under the rug as this will cause stress to your horse.
3. Stabling/Turnout Routine – Stabling your horse at times of the day where the midges are more prevalent will reduce the risk of your horse being bitten. Midges are more common near water so you may want to look into moving your horse if their field and stable is situated near a lake, pond, river – any water mass that is slow moving. We belive that horses should have the choice of shelter when possible so allowing access to a shelter at all times is important.
4. Insecticides and Repellents – Making your horse or pony less palatable to the midges also helps.
Natural Fly & Insect Repellant Spray – Try our naturally animals fly spray & gel – most horses suffering from SI benefit from a barrier – be it a fly rug or an appropriate fly spray / gel to act as a barrier and keep the midges off
Naturally Fulvic Spray – apply topically to affected areas to accelerate healing
Neem Oil – can be applied topically
These should always be patch tested to test for sensitivity. Only apply natural products as if your horse’s immune system is compromised applying chemical products will only add to the problem.
If you would like to lean how to make your own remedies see the following courses and PDF manuals:
This is also included in this amazing online course:
and to learn how to work with Natural remedies and keep your horse as healthy as possible:
5. Nutritional support – in addition to ensuring your horse is on as natural and organic a diet as possible (i.e. low sugar & protein) there are many natural products that you can offer your horse by self-selection to nutritionally support their body and help regulate their immune response. In the wild animals are able to forage on a wide range of plants and natural substances to support their body when needed. This process of zoopharmacognosy – animals self-medicating – is very effective in Sweet Itch management – the following products are commonly selected by horses prone to SI. If you have any questions regarding this fascinating process, or would like to book a consult or an introductory training / demo day please contact us.
5.1 Omega 3
Many research projects have shown the importance of Omega 3, and its precursor Alpha-linolenic Acid (ALA) in controlling the immune response triggered in SI sufferers. Flaxseed / Linseed is one of the highest natural vegetable sources of Alpha-linolenic acid ALA (12); and also contains phytoestrogens (lignans), flavonoids, and a complex array of amino acids and minerals. Omega 3 cannot be manufactured by the body, it has to come from dietary intake, and many of our ponies, especially those on restricted grazing, and lacking in Omega 3. Many SI sufferers are desperate for LINSEED oil so always offer this for self-selection on a daily basis.
A recent study has proven that linseed may be of benefit in a small study of icelandic ponies http://www.holistichorse.com/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=457&catid=53&Itemid=253
5.2 Mineral Deficiency
Many of our soils in the UK and mineral deficient – this has severe repercussions for our animals health. A mineral imbalance can be a contributing factor to SI so always ensure your horse is offered the following on a self-selection basis:
5.3 Detoxification many horses are / have been fed commercial mixes / nuts which are often high in protein and sugars. It is always advisable to offer SI sufferers herbs and natural plant extracts to detox their systems and clean the blood. This will help clean the body and make it less attractive to the biting midges as well as nutritionally support the liver and kidneys to work efficiently moving forwards to eliminate toxins from the body. Herbs and natural products to consider are:
Plusbac Soil Derived Micro-organisms
Or our Naturall No Itch Mix
SPIRULINA (organic) – offering spirulina to horses with sweet itch has proved beneficial in some cases. Furthermore it will help nutritionally balance the immune system.
BREWERS YEAST– Brewers yeast is rich in vitamin B minerals and this has proven beneficial to offer to ward off any biting insects, and also nutritionally supports the digestive system and liver
Essential oils to offer for detoxification include:
and to support healing and itching:
5.4 Immune Support
Horses suffering from SI often need additional nutritional support to their immune system;
Herbs to offer include: wheat Grass, spirulina, rosehips, nettles, gotu Cola, comfrey, Echinacea, garlic,
Essential oils include: carrot seed, angelica root, bergamot, yarrow, german chamomile, seaweed extract, sea buckthorn, orange
6. Symptomatic Control
Natural plant extracts to support inflammation and sores are essential for the SI sufferers first aid kit, try offering the following for self-selection:
Nutritionally Support where inflammation is present – german chamomile, yarrow, devils claw
Nutritionally support soothing– german chamomile, great mugwort, flouve. Lavender essential oil will really help sooteh, as will roman chamomile & peppermint
Nutritionally support where infection is present – echinacea and garlic
Gels: Naturally Animals Itch relief Gel
Or try offering the following oils and make into a gel of your own using the oils selected:
german and roman chamomile ,
If the skin has already become broken, a green clay application can be very effective in preventing infection – see Naturally Animals Magic Mud and Green Clay
Emotional Support: SI can cause significant stress to your horse – try offering essential oils to support them emotionally – bergamot, geranium, roman & german chamomile, yarrow, lavender, rose otto are all popular
We hope this helps. Please do call us for further advice or a consult if needed. The most important thing is to start supporting your animal before the season for sweet itch begins, do not wait until they are suffering before taking action.