Sweet Itch, also referred to as tail and mane itching or Summer Seasonal Recurrent Dermatitis (SSRD) is a problem that effects thousands of horses, ponies and donkeys all over the world.
Horses that suffer from sweet itch , suffer in the spring, summer and autumn from intense itching. As a result we see in season many horses constantly scratching on anything within reach. The top of the tail and the mane are most commonly affected but also the neck, withers, hips, ears and the mid-line of the belly can suffer. The scratching causes hair loss, skin thickening and flaky dandruff.
Sweet itch is an immune system problem, which is caused by an allergic reaction to the saliva of the Culicoides midge, a tiny midge which is barely visible with the naked eye.
Previously we saw this problem mainly at breeds like Icelanders , Shetland ponies and Friesians , but nowadays it is occurring in almost all breeds. A real, proper solution to this problem is not just to give relief, but to prevent. There may be a number of measures which can be taken so that the horse is bitten less by midges and therefore will have less itching. One of the most effective measures to take during the period that the midge is active, i.e. from March to October (depending on weather conditions) is to cover the horse in a so called ‘eczema rug’. This rug covers the horse as much as possible and there the mosquito cannot reach the body. This blanket must be worn consistently and when it is removed, other measures must be taken. An alternative method is to stable the horses during the hours that the mosquito is most active (dusk and dawn). However, on hot days with little wind, the chances of midge bites are also high throughout the day. Some supplements can help relieve the symptoms, as would feeding garlic to the horse daily in order that the body odour is less attractive to midges; this however has never been scientifically proven.
There are many different products that claim to prevent midge bites or treat the symptoms. However, the horse is still allergic to the bite and therefore the symptoms are just suppressed. There is no cure for sweet itch once an animal develops the allergy; it’s down to the owner’s management to ensure the animal’s comfort and well being.