brown horse attacked by flies

Midges. These tiny little biting flies are pests to both human and horse in the spring, summer, and early fall. But these flies can be more than just pesky – they are actually the source of an equine condition called Sweet Itch.

What Is Sweet Itch?

Sweet Itch is an overreaction of your horse’s immune system to the saliva left behind by bites from midges. This reaction results in itching and swelling in the bite area. Your horse may scratch himself to the point where the skin is raw, and infection can become a concern. Sweet Itch is most commonly seen along the crest of your horse’s mane and along the dock of his tail, but it can also be found on other areas of his body such as his legs and belly.

Sweet Itch presents as lesions, bleeding skin, and even bald patches of skin. If the area becomes infected, then the itching gets even worse. Your horse will continue to scratch himself to relieve the itching, which can prolong and worsen the infection. This can quickly become a vicious cycle.

Managing Sweet Itch

Once Sweet Itch has set in, it is very difficult to manage. Your best bet is to prevent Sweet Itch entirely. However, if your horse has Sweet Itch, antihistamines can help to reduce the itching, while antibiotics may be necessary to control infection. It is best to call your vet for advice on your horse’s individual case.

Preventing Sweet Itch
Since Sweet Itch is so difficult to treat, you will want to do your very best to prevent the condition from ever occurring. The more that you can protect your horse from midges, the better a chance you’ll have of preventing Sweet Itch.

One of the best ways to prevent midge bites is to keep your horse in his stall during the late afternoon hours when midges are most active. If you do stall your horse, then try to maximize the ventilation in your barn to further reduce the presence of flies. Installing stall windows and barn fans can help to keep the air circulating and the flies out. When you do turn your horse out, using a fly mask and a fly sheet with small holes can help to keep midges off of your horse. Use a quality fly spray, too, and practice good manure management to help reduce the fly population both in your horse’s pasture and around the barn.

With good preventative practices, hopefully you and your horse will never have to deal with a case of Sweet Itch.

Original Source: Battling Sweet Itch

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