Stop That Itch

Insect Hypersensitivity in Horses 

The skin is the largest organ of the horse’s body and the physiologic barrier against the environment. It is vital for survival. As the physiologic barrier, the skin is subject to attack from numerous sources including infectious bacteria and insect bites.

Whatever the cause, equine skin disorders are a source of pain and suffering in the horse. They not only compromise comfort and appearance but also can affect the horse’s ability to function. Some common signs of skin allergies are patchy hair loss, dermatitis, hives, and crusty or flaky skin. Horses can rub themselves raw from scratching. There are many causes and it is important to make sure the horse is treated properly. If left untreated skin infections can develop which will require antibiotics.
The most prevalent equine allergy is hypersensitivity to the saliva from insect bites. The most severe form of this allergy is sweet itch which is a reaction to tiny biting midges. Other biting insects include horseflies, mosquitoes, gnats and fleas with multiple species of each. All these bites can trigger an allergic reaction in horses.
Some signs of insect bite hypersensitivity are excessive itching, and hairless patches with inflamed scabby skin. Bites can occur on any part of the horses’ skin but are most commonly found on the belly, root of the mane, base of the tail and around the face.
The diagnosis of insect bite hypersensitivity is based on clinical signs and history, including the time of year that the signs are observed. If a horse is highly suspected of having an insect hypersensitivity further testing can be performed to confirm the diagnosis, including skin tests or blood serum analysis.
Treatment of insect bite hypersensitivity includes many different means. The affected animal’s exposure to insects should be reduced as much as possible. These insects are most active at dawn and dusk so if possible it is best to keep your horse in the barn during these periods of day. Using a good fly spray, having a fan in the horse’s stall, and a fly mask will also help. Fly sheets can also be affective for the extremely sensitive horses that may have reaction all over their body. Make sure to remove all manure around the stable area and don’t allow stagnant water to be around the barn.

The clinical signs of insect hypersensitivity can be treated by a veterinarian. Some treatment options include steroids, topical sprays and salves as well as antihistamines. Shampooing the horse once a week will help to reduce the irritation. Despite many horses being severely hypersensitive to insects the condition is very treatable. It will however take a concerted effort by the owner, veterinarian, and caretaker.

Note: Deer Creek Equine Clinic carries product from KineticVet to help treat skin conditions in horses, including insect bite hypersensitivity. Give us a call today and we would be happy to discuss your horses needs and best treatment plan.

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