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So What Is Sweet Itch And Why Do Horses Suffer With It?

You should suspect that your horse has 'Queensland Itch' if it develops a reoccurring, itchy skin condition every summer and if the itching occurs mainly around the butt of the tail and around the base of the mane. In bad cases the itchy areas involve the whole back area and the ears and face. Yet other horses are affected on the chest and belly (in addition to the other areas).

The cause is actually an allergic reaction to chemicals in the saliva of the midge. When the horse is bitten by the midges small lumps develop in the skin and because they are intensely itchy the horse rubs itself, causing loss of hair and irritating the skin. Serum oozes from the irritated skin and scabs form. In chronic cases the skin becomes thickened and corrugated.

Symptoms of Queensland Itch

The appearance of the skin is distinctive, but other diseases that can look similar include ringworm, tail itch, bites from stable or buffalo flies, and rain scald. Queensland itch is very common in northern Australia, roughly from Taree NSW north, although there are pockets with appropriate climatic conditions further south than this. While Queensland Itch is commonest in QLD, it is regularly seen in NSW.

‘Queensland Itch' is mainly a summer problem although in some areas the midges are around nearly all year. It is particularly bad in areas where there is a quantity of still, stagnant water for the midges to breed in.

If you are unsure whether your horse has 'Queensland Itch' or some other skin condition, consult with your veterinarian for advice. Provide temporary relief of the skin irritation by applying calamine lotion or anti-inflammatory creams. Your veterinarian will usually recommend daily bathing with a pyrethroid (eg permoxin wash) for a week then once weekly once the condition is under control. In more severe cases, they will also often start a course of prednisalone (preddy granules) to reduce the initial itchiness and allow the skin to heal. Some particularly susceptible horses will need to receive this treatment every year.

Treatment and Management of Queensland Itch

There are a number of things that you can do to help manage Queensland Itch

  • Most importantly, decrease the horse's exposure to the Culicoides midges
  • Kill the midges that do attack the horse
  • Stop the horse itching and scratching to prevent self trauma

Non-irritant, oil-based compounds may help because they have a sedative effect on skin and also act as a barrier to the midge. However care must be taken when using them in hot weather as the oil content can burn the horse. Residual insecticides, such as the synthetic pyrethroid-type sprays, can be used, but remember that rain will reduce the effectiveness of sprays and local treatment.

In the long term midge control measures are needed because susceptible horses are usually affected annually. Ideally, keep these horses in insect-proof stables at the times of greatest midge activity (late afternoon and early morning). A fan in the stable will help to keep the midges away (midges are not strong enough to be able to fly in the strong breeze created by the fan).

A Snuggy Hoods Sweet Itch Anti-Itch Rug & Hood (shown above) is a must if the horse is outside during the late afternoon and early morning. These rugs are proven with tremendous success with horses and ponies suffering from chronic Queensland Itch who are now in the show ring at premier shows. Chronic sufferes are advised to wear the Snuggy Hoods Anti Itch Sweet Itch rug and hood 24/7 other than when being ridden, providing great relief for those suffering.

Click here to buy a Snuggy Hoods Anti-Itch Hood

Click here to buy a Snuggy Hoods Anti-Itch Rug

Queensland Itch is a miserable condition for horses and it is not fair to let horses suffer unnecessarily. Never just ignore the condition, always seek expert advice. Please do not hesitate to contact Snuggy Hoods for any further advice on this horrid condition, we are always here to help.