Kate Hore RNutr(Animal). Snr Nutritionist at NAF
Summer is here, and with that the longer days, better weather and more opportunities to ride. But it’s not all good news for some of our equines. Just as we may be prone to summer associated health issues, such as hayfever, so some horses and ponies are susceptible to allergies and intolerances through the nicer weather, with one of the most common being Sweet Itch.
Sweet Itch, also known as Summer Seasonal Recurrent Dermatits (SSRD) is an allergic reaction to the bit of the Cullicoides midge. Signs will be seen as intense itching, particularly along the mane and top of the tail, though we also frequently see head and belly rubbing. Hair loss and sore, inflamed areas of skin may be seen, as will raised, ridged skin if the condition worsens. Needless to say affected horses and ponies will also be particularly irritated by flying insects, and especially those pesky midges!
Researchers have found evidence of a genetic link with Sweet Itch, which may explain why we see some breeds, including Shetlands, Shires, Welsh and Hackneys, all recognised as more likely to suffer. Equally research shows the importance of early exposure to the allergen to initiate the individuals natural defence. Hence we see a high level of Sweet Itch in exported Icelandic horses, as the absence of the Cullicoides midge in their native Iceland means they don’t have early life exposure to the allergen.
The correct management can be really useful to help those suffering from Sweet Itch. Consider stabling during the day in a clean, airy stable, as both flies are at their height during the day. When they are turned out, for Sweet Itch horses and ponies, try to choose an open aspect field, preferably on a hill which encourages a constant light breeze. Avoiding standing ponds or any water sources where flies congregate is a must. Fly rugs may prove useful, and don’t forget regular use of a strong, proven fly repellent – check it is registered for safety and efficacy with a HSE or BPR registration number. It is recommended to check their diets, and ensure that you’re supporting skin health from the inside out with the right targeted nutrition.
By taking some simple management and dietary steps we can hopefully help all of our horses and ponies to enjoy the long summer days as much as we do.