May is the month that marks the start of the sweet itch season, so here's how to spot, treat and prevent this awful skin condition.
As soon as there is a change of weather, the midges and flies appear on the seen. They invade our horses' stables, and take great delight preying on the 3% of the UK equine population who feel their effects.
Once the horse is bitten, there is no escape. The immune system goes into overdrive because the midges' saliva is so extreme that your horse can be literally covered in patches of sore weeping skin. Anyone who's ever owned a horse with a sweet itch condition will know, its agonising to see your horse go through such discomfort. Sweet itch is a condition that is tough to prevent and even harder to treat largely because midges are so prevalent, especially in wet boggy areas.
What is sweet itch? Sweet itch is an allergic reaction to the Culicoides midge. This midge is active from May through to October, and is so small that it can penetrate through mesh and netting. This midge fly loves to be near damp, smelly environments which is not great when you have a muck heap in your yard. The midge attacks the underside of the mane and the top of the tail. The majority of early signs start to show in horses as young as a yearling. It can affect all horses, but especially those who tend to carry more weight.
The condition starts to show as a sore, sticky patch of skin that is irritable and sore to touch. Your horse normally finds relief by scratching these areas, but can severely damage the skin and hair. Once the soreness has worn off, the area will become scurfy and scabby.
If your horse is showing signs of the condition for the first time this month and he's not responding to sweet itch lotions, you should speak with your vet. A vet can provide a skin scrape and confirm your horse's condition.
Early prevention As soon as your horse is showing early signs, that is when you can help to prevent it. Midge flies are most active at dawn and dusk, so stabling your horse at these times is the first step to help prevent Sweet itch. To further help cover his stable door with anti-midge netting and install a fan to help circulate the air.
When your horse is turned out invest in a good anti-midge fly rug, one that protects the tail, neck and belly.