Horse Owners Tend Not To Consult Vets Over Sweet Itch

Horse Owners Tend Not To Consult Vets Over Sweet Itch

A recent pilot study found a reluctance to consult with veterinarians when it comes to treating equine sweet itch, often dubbed summer eczema.

Hannah R. Lomas and Philip A. Robinson, the researchers acknowledge the condition is a frustrating and recurrent reaction to midge bites. There is no cure.

The survey results are published in A Pilot Qualitative Investigation of Stakeholders’ Experiences and Opinions of Equine Insect Bite Hypersensitivity.

Hypersensitivity in horses is caused by allergens in midge saliva. Other insects may also be responsible. The horse’s hypersensitivity leads to self-inflicted trauma and might result in bald spots, bleeding and skin crusting.

So far, the most effective way to control midges has been a combination of physical barriers and chemical treatments.

The pilot study included sit-down interviews with persons involved in the horse industry. The participants’ roles included a veterinarian, hobbyist owners, race course employees, a riding school employee and the owner of a competition horse.

The veterinarian interviewed suggested a variety of possible strategies for managing and treating sweet itch. He said owners tend to use a trial and error methodology to find a combination which works.

“I think there is the temptation to try and manage it yourself,” said the vet. “If a person doesn’t know better, they try lots of different things and avoid or ignore management changes such as not turning them out during the day when the midges are most active.”

The general reluctance to consult with vets happens even when the horse’s welfare is impacted and the owners are frustrating at not finding a remedy.

Most of the participants supported an integrated approach to sweet itch management which involved a blending of physical barriers and repellents — but also often included feed supplements.

Using fly rugs, moving horses into stables or moving the horses to areas where the midges were less apt to inhabit were some of the strategies used in addition to repellents. Lotions were also used by some of the study’s participants.

Talking about their findings, Lomas and Robinson said everyone interviewed had knowledge of insect bite hypersensitivity (IBH), but only those with personal experience exhibited an advanced understanding.

A great deal of what is done is often based on what had been found previously to be effective, or whatever other horse owners had suggested. Each strategies effectiveness was dependent on unique circumstances and the severity of the case.

Another reason why vets are seldom consulted is the financial and time cost of managing IBH-afflicted animals.

Instead of involving veterinarians, horse owners displayed a resigned acceptance of the condition as a daily part of horse ownership — especially in the spring and summer. Only if professional help was seen as justifying the cost would horse owners believe the help would merit the extra cost.