Regardless of the initial trigger, itchy horses often have an overworked immune system so it is essential to provide correct mineral balance to ensure the immune system has adequate nutrients to function optimally. Feed additional antioxidants including vitamins C, E, bioflavonoids and organic selenium help to support immune function in hypersensitive horses.
The diet should also provide more omega-3 fatty acids than omega-6 to modulate the inflammatory processes in the immune system, and to improve the suppleness and strength of cell membranes. Marine-sourced omega-3s in the form of docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) are particularly noted for their role in skin health in dogs and horses during inflammatory reactions. This improves the resilience of the skin and reduces dryness.
Managing Horses with Insect Bite Sensitivities
Use rugs and masks to cover sensitive areas such as ears, neck and tail. Regular application of insecticides (permethrin of at least 1% concentration or 10g per litre) and insect repellents such as citronella and neem oil are also important. Many repellents will not work for long enough to be effective between applications.
Try to physically remove your horse from the areas where biting insects like to live. Avoid paddocks with a dam or other sources of standing water. If you stable your horse, use screens and a fan to reduce risk of insect bites. Put your horse in the stable at dusk when biting midges are most active.
Consider use of insect baits and attractants to reduce the number of biting insects in your horse’s environment.
Treating Horses with Neck Threadworm or Intestinal Parasites
Speak to your equine vet about the most appropriate monitoring and worming protocol to target parasites when they are in a susceptible stage of their life-cycle. The type of wormer (active ingredients), frequency of treatment and pasture management practices required can vary according to the climate, season and species of parasite being managed.
It is advisable to follow any worming protocol with a course of probiotics to support a healthy gut microbial population.
Managing Horses with Mycotoxin-induced Itch
Mycotoxin-associated itch is commonly seen during humid weather especially when ryegrass or paspalum grass seed heads are present.
If your horse develops itch and/or signs of photosensitivity (it looks like severe sunburn especially on pink skin) and greasy heel, treatment with a broad-spectrum toxin binder along with a zinc and antibiotic cream.
Managing Chronically Itchy Horses
Chronic itch tends to be caused by multiple factors which have an additive affect. The horse will often begin scratching within 15 to 20 minutes after the trigger but sometimes the itching can be a delayed reaction occuring up to 48 hours later. Raised lumps or hives may be an early sign that your horse has had an allergic reaction to insect bites.
The process of scratching damages the skin, allowing secondary bacterial infections to establish, and this keeps the horse itchy. If your itchy horse has flaky skin, it is very likely that there is a bacterial infection present.
Sometimes a fungal infection also takes advantage of the broken skin and this can become extremely itchy.
Successful management of chronically itchy horses requires use of an effective anti-bacterial shampoo, spray or lotion and a fungicide if required. Effective active ingredients in topical treatments include chlorhexidine/chlorhexidine gluconate, dichlorophen and benzyl peroxide.
Horses have more thinner, less greasy and more sensitive skin than humans so the treatment shampoos designed for horses are less concentrated than the human versions to avoid irritation.
Horses with severe itch often require intervention with veterinary prescribed corticosteroid creams or injections to help break the itch cycle. Your vet will advise you on appropriate anti-bacterial or anti-fungal treatments to help clear up the skin and sooth irritation.
Whilst undergoing veterinary treatment, it is important to continue with correct nutrition to support the immune system, and management of your horse’s environment to avoid the triggers that caused the initial itch.
Factors to consider when applying creams, lotions or shampoos:
- Shampoo removes oils from the skin so dry skin will become even drier – do not shampoo dry skin with treatment shampoo more than once a week.
- Greasy creams can create a moist environment that encourages bacterial and fungal infections – only use creams which contain an effective anti-bacterial/anti-fungal agent.
- Soothing ingredients such as oatmeal and aloe could be beneficial.
The optimal treatment for your horse could change over time, depending on skin moisture, environmental humidity and the type and level of infection.
Recommended products for itchy horses
- Balance your horse’s diet with adequate vitamins and correct mineral balance using the Equine Vit&Min blend best suited to the diet. Grab yourself a free diet analysis from our team of qualified Equine Nutritionists here.
- Additional antioxidants help to support a challenged immune system – consider Farmalogic Melox, a scientifically formulated blend of vitamins, organic selenium and melon extract rich in the antioxidant enzyme, superoxide dismutase.
- Supplement with omega-3 fatty acids, especially in the form of DHA from marine or algal sources – consider Farmalogic Omega Balancer or EVM Omega-3 Plus.
- Regularly apply permethrin insecticides and neem/citronella repellents.
- Treat secondary bacterial infections with regular chlorhexidine/chlorhexidine gluconate, dichlorophen and benzyl peroxide creams, sprays, shampoos or lotions.
- Use an effective toxin binder if itch is associated with mycotoxins in the pasture or feed – consider Farmalogic Grazaid along with a zinc and antibiotic cream or spray.
Seek veterinary advice if corticosteriod treatment is required to reduce inflammation and break the itch cycle.