Horse Care: What is Queensland Itch?

Summer’s warmer temperatures always brings out the bug population in droves. Horse’s spend most of their time outdoors, so this can become a problem, as horse fly, black fly and midge (commonly mistaken for mosquitos) populations increase. With only their tails to help them keep these pests at bay, it is common for horses to get bit often and sometimes this can result in Queensland Itch, also known as Sweet Itch.

What is Queensland Itch?

This skin condition is caused by an allergic reaction to the bites of various types of flies. While these flies only bite the horse, and leave no venom or draw blood, they do cause an irritation that lingers and eventually causes the horse to develop hypersensitivity to the bite, as he tries to stop the itch. It's possible that the horse will chew or rub excessively in the spot where the bite is located until the area becomes inflamed and raw. As a result, an allergic reaction develops from the chemicals in the saliva of the fly, which escalates the irritation into a vicious cycle of itching and rubbing.

This condition generally occurs during the summer months as the higher temperatures irritate the skin further. Queensland Itch generally afflicts the areas of the horse that are most bitten by the various flies, which includes the mane and butt of the tail. While a horse will not die from this condition, if they are afflicted they can be difficult to deal with as their temperament from the discomfort and itch can make them more irritable, and harder to work with.

SIGNS AND SYMPTOMS

Although it is common to see a horse rub against an object to scratch itself once in a while, or relieve an itch by chewing the spot for a few seconds, if you see him do this to the same area repeatedly, and excessively, that is the first sign of a problem that there is more than just a simple itch. Other signs include the following:

  • Coat looks dull and rough
  • Bald patches accompanied by flaking skin
  • Broken, sometimes bleeding skin
  • Damage to the mane and tail area – coarse, broken, stubbly hairs, some standing on end
  • Hardened skin around an area that seems to be inflamed
  • Crusting, scales and scabs may appear in bitten areas
  • Weeping sores and cuts in more severe cases

TREATMENT

This condition can be treated effectively. In less serious cases of Queensland Itch, you can treat the affected area with a salve you can make from common ingredients. This mixture will help reduce the inflammation, soothe the itching and also aid in protecting the area from future bites while it heals.

Salve Ingredients:

  • Olive Oil
  • Apple Cider Vinegar
  • Bicarbonate of Soda

 

 

Using a 50/50 ratio of olive oil and apple cider vinegar, mix the two ingredients using the bicarbonate of soda until you have a paste consistency; not too runny and not too thick, but heavy enough to cling to the afflicted area and stay in place. Continue to apply this mixture to the area every two days, checking to make sure it is healing and not become infected.

While treating the horse, you can help reduce other bites by rugging him (covering him with a cape-like blanket that protects his body). The use of harsh chemical insect repellants can increase the irritation and delay healing, so if possible, use of a gentler treatment such as this homemade paste is recommended. You can also bathe your horse daily with a veterinarian recommended shampoo that will be gentle and soothing.

As with all problems, if you are unsure about the severity of your horse’s condition, absolutely check with your equine veterinarian for additional information, and to make sure your horse is not suffering from something other than Queensland itch, or perhaps in addition to Queensland Itch.

When possible, it is a good idea to keep a horse being treated from Queensland Itch in areas where there are fewer objects and less trees for him to rub against; to help prevent further damage to the affected areas. Make sure the horse has plenty of fresh water so he is less likely to wander near shallow water holes that may be stagnant as those are areas where the biting flies dwell.

PREVENTION

As with most conditions, it is better to try to prevent such occurrences rather than treating them. Try to stable your horse when the peak feeding period of the flies occurs, which would be dusk, dawn and overnight. Using a strong overhead fan in stables will also help keep the flies from congregating in the stall, because they cannot fly in strong wind. Make sure stalls and grazing areas are kept completely clean of manure, as this will attract increased numbers of flies. If possible, screen stall windows with a small mesh to help restrict access to your horse’s stall, but will still allow ample ventilation.

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