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Summertime Means Itchy horses!
 By mosquito   •   10th Aug 2010   •   14,298 views   •   4 comments
This time of year, many of us will find that our horses start to scratch. And scratch and scratch some more. They rub their manes, tails, and anything they can get up against a tree or fence post. Some horses will even squat down and rub their tummies on the grass. It may sound funny, but it’s not. Itchy horses can rub away their manes, tails, and patches on their coats, sometimes so badly that they end up bleeding and sore. If left untreated, some horses may end up with permanent scars and bald patches. What causes a horse to get itchy, and what can the owner of an itchy horse do about it?


There are many possible causes of itching. Tail rubbing is a telltale sign of internal parasites, although it can have other causes too. Mange, lice, or insect bites can cause itchy coats. Skin conditions like eczema and even dandruff can drive a horse crazy with itching. Even malnutrition and boredom can lead a horse to itch, although one of the most common causes of itching is an allergy to insects called ‘sweet itch’.

The owner of an itchy horse needs to do two things – treat the cause, to try and stop the itching altogether, and treat the symptoms, to give the horse some comfort and relief. To find out the cause, first consult your vet. He or she may test for parasites, or take a skin scraping for analysis to see if the cause is obvious (like worms, lice, or a fungal infection). A blood test may show if malnutrition or allergy is the cause. Unless your horse already has a diagnosis as to the cause of the itch, a vet’s analysis will be very helpful in treating your horse and preventing the itch returning next summer.

your vet will probably prescribe dewormersIf parasites or another infection is the cause, your vet will probably prescribe dewormers, lice powders, or other medications to attack these causes. If your horse has internal or external parasites, you really need your vet’s help to make sure you treat these, because they can return if you don’t get rid of them completely. Some of the medications can be dangerous to handle for you too, so you should use them with a vet’s supervision. If the cause is more subtle, like allergies or eczema, than they may recommend some antihistamine treatments to alleviate the itch and in severe cases steroid creams or even injections may be necessary. There are, however, several things you can do yourself.

Be careful about using any anti-itch creams for people they seldom work on horses and some can cause even more irritation. Antiseptic creams too, while they may prevent infections in any open sores, can also sting and irritate the site more. Anti-dandruff shampoos (even the ones for people) may help a little, and are certainly mild enough to use frequently, and there are plenty of shampoos for horses designed to soothe itchiness and moisturize the skin and coat. Mixing one part Listerine with three parts water and sponging your horse’s itchy parts will prevent infections in sores, help weepy sores dry out and heal, and the smell deters biting insects too. Even simple hosing with cold water will soothe itching and give your horse a break, even if it's only temporary.

Sweet itch is one of the most common and serious causes of itchy horses, and is caused by an allergic reaction to insect bites. Horses with sweet itch need special care, mainly to prevent them being bitten in the first place. Fly repellents are fine for flies, but the midges that cause sweet itch aren’t deterred by repellents. Anyway, keeping a horse fully protected 24 hours a day with fly sprays is almost impossible. Horses with sweet itch can wear special fly net hoods and blankets these work well although to passers-by it may look like your horse is wearing a suit of armor!

Horses with severe sweet itch

Horses with severe sweet itch may need other care too. Stabling them in the morning and evening, when the biting insects are at their busiest, will help. Moving your horse to pastures away from ponds or other standing water or away from damp forest areas where the insects breed can help too. Whatever you do, caring for a horse with sweet itch is a big job, but one your horse will thank you for.

Some people have had success by adding garlic to their horse’s feeds. The smell your horse will give off from eating garlic can help to keep some flies away, but it’s unlikely to be enough to protect it completely. Garlic does have other health benefits though – even for horses – so adding some to your horse’s feed won’t hurt as long as you can stand the smell!

If you have an itchy horse, you have a big job every summer to protect your horse and keep it comfortable. The good news is, with proper diagnosis so you know what to do, there are usually plenty of options for you. If you can keep the itching under control, then your horse will be able to ride, show, and compete just fine!
Horse News More In This Category:  Care and Grooming      Horse News More From This Author:  mosquito
Padfoot Designs  
Great artical! Thanks for the information!
  Aug 10, 2010  •  11,249 views
 
Dreamer100  
My horse has to wear a fly sheet and mask 24/7, because she is allergic to fly sprays.
This is a great article.
  Aug 11, 2010  •  11,257 views
 
Run Free  
my horse swishes his tail lots but doesnt have any sores or red patches whats he doing it for
  Aug 11, 2010  •  11,237 views
 
mosquito  
Hi Rachael - horses swish their tails for many reasons. Usually, they are swishing away flies, sometimes its because they have an itchy bottom. They can also do it when they are excited, irritated, or just bored. If your horse swishes its tail when you are grooming it, it may mean your horse is a bit ticklish!
  Aug 11, 2010  •  12,211 views
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