Life Data Labs, Inc.

 

The Causes and Management of Sweet Itch (Summer Dermatitis)

Sweet Itch for Horse

Sweet itch in horses, also known as summer dermatitis, is an allergic hypersensitivity reaction to biting flies or midges. Midges breed and hatch in stagnant water, and are more abundant around dense vegetation. Although smaller than mosquitoes, they often make their presence known by flying in swarms of black clouds. The seasonal nature of the horse’s skin allergy is correlated with the life cycle of the midges.

While the immune system recognizes and destroys potentially harmful invaders such as viruses, an allergy occurs when an otherwise harmless antigen also becomes an enemy of an overreacting immune system.

One of the most commonly developed allergies in horses is to antigens injected into the skin by biting flies. To obtain a blood meal, biting flies and midges will cut the skin with their mouthparts to create a pool of blood. During the process the flies inject anticoagulants mixed with saliva into the horse’s dermis. The saliva is recognized as foreign by the horse’s immune system. An immune mediated response occurs to rid the body of the “antigens”, in which immune cells surround the antigens and release enzymes in the skin. Over time this immune response can become exaggerated and is then considered an allergic hypersensitivity reaction to the antigens in the fly’s saliva.

The resulting tissue inflammation causes irritation of the nerve endings in the skin and sends itching signals to the brain. Thickening of the skin due to inflammation compromises the skin’s normal barrier function, allowing easier entry of additional allergens through the skin, thereby multiplying the inflammation and itch cycle. The physical damage to the skin from the horse rubbing fixed objects further predisposes the horse to secondary bacterial skin infections.

Sweet itch is primarily manifested by itching of the face, mane, tail and head areas. The lower abdominal and chest can also be involved. Midges typically feed during the day, and prefer biting the head and ears but will also bite any exposed skin. Providing a darkened shed or stall will hinder the midge’s ability to find the host, and utilizing a fan blowing across the horse is an added deterrent. Face masks, fly sheets, or sweet itch rugs offer a physical barrier. A daily or twice daily application of a fly repellant can also be effective. Although these methods are effective they do not address the underlying allergy.

Cortisone, a steroid, is commonly given by mouth or injection to bring relief by reducing skin inflammation and suppressing the immune system. This is usually a quick means of providing itch relief. The downside is that cortisone not only fails to address the underlying allergy, but cortisone, especially in high doses or prolonged usage, not only predisposes the horse to laminitis, but is also detrimental to the kidneys, liver, and other organs that are responsible for secreting natural hormones. Cortisone is a synthetic drug that mimics a hormone naturally produced by the adrenal glands called cortisol. High dose cortisone injections or tablets can negatively affect the production of natural cortisol by the adrenal glands, and can lead to one of a multitude of metabolic disorders.

Other conventional medical treatments include giving antihistamines to help reduce the release of enzymes from the immune cells. Antihistamines have a reduced risk of complications when compared to cortisone administration; however they are also usually less effective in alleviating the symptoms.

Another treatment option is a desensitization protocol by your veterinarian in which, initially, a small amount of the offending antigen is given by injection. Gradually increasing the amount of the antigens injected on a strict schedule may slowly acclimatize the horse to the antigen and reduce symptoms. This treatment method is relatively expensive and requires a long time to reap benefits, if at all.

Many horse owners overlook the fact that healthier skin is more resilient to sweet itch. Because certain nutrients can help improve the skin’s resistance to dermatitis, it’s worthwhile looking into nutritional supplements that can strengthen connective tissue proteins.

Adding a nutritional supplement supporting healthy skin that contains omega fatty acids, phospholipids, minerals, amino acids, and vitamins to your horse’s diet can greatly diminish the effects of allergic skin disease. An excellent option is Farrier’s Formula® Hoof and Coat Supplement for Horses. This concentrated nutrient source supplies nutrients to help strengthen connective tissue proteins, especially collagen, thereby improving the skin’s resistance to dermatitis.

Your veterinarian and farrier are excellent resources for additional information, or visit www.lifedatalabs.co.uk.

Scott Gravlee, DVM, CNS
Equine Nutrition Consultant
Life Data Labs, Inc

Horse with Sweet Itch

Sweet itch in horses, also known as summer dermatitis, is an allergic hypersensitivity reaction to biting flies or midges. Midges breed and hatch in stagnant water, and are more abundant around dense vegetation. Although smaller than mosquitoes, they often make their presence known by flying in swarms of black clouds. The seasonal nature of the horse’s skin allergy is correlated with the life cycle of the midges.


While the immune system recognizes and destroys potentially harmful invaders such as viruses, an allergy occurs when an otherwise harmless antigen also becomes an enemy of an overreacting immune system.


One of the most commonly developed allergies in horses is to antigens injected into the skin by biting flies. To obtain a blood meal, biting flies and midges will cut the skin with their mouthparts to create a pool of blood. During the process the flies inject anticoagulants mixed with saliva into the horse’s dermis. The saliva is recognized as foreign by the horse’s immune system. An immune mediated response occurs to rid the body of the “antigens”, in which immune cells surround the antigens and release enzymes in the skin. Over time this immune response can become exaggerated and is then considered an allergic hypersensitivity reaction to the antigens in the fly’s saliva.


The resulting tissue inflammation causes irritation of the nerve endings in the skin and sends itching signals to the brain. Thickening of the skin due to inflammation compromises the skin’s normal barrier function, allowing easier entry of additional allergens through the skin, thereby multiplying the inflammation and itch cycle. The physical damage to the skin from the horse rubbing fixed objects further predisposes the horse to secondary bacterial skin infections.
Sweet itch is primarily manifested by itching of the face, mane, tail and head areas. The lower abdominal and chest can also be involved. Midges typically feed during the day, and prefer biting the head and ears but will also bite any exposed skin. Providing a darkened shed or stall will hinder the midge’s ability to find the host, and utilizing a fan blowing across the horse is an added deterrent. Face masks, fly sheets, or sweet itch rugs offer a physical barrier. A daily or twice daily application of a fly repellant can also be effective. Although these methods are effective they do not address the underlying allergy.


Cortisone, a steroid, is commonly given by mouth or injection to bring relief by reducing skin inflammation and suppressing the immune system. This is usually a quick means of providing itch relief. The downside is that cortisone not only fails to address the underlying allergy, but cortisone, especially in high doses or prolonged usage, not only predisposes the horse to laminitis, but is also detrimental to the kidneys, liver, and other organs that are responsible for secreting natural hormones. Cortisone is a synthetic drug that mimics a hormone naturally produced by the adrenal glands called cortisol. High dose cortisone injections or tablets can negatively affect the production of natural cortisol by the adrenal glands, and can lead to one of a multitude of metabolic disorders.
Other conventional medical treatments include giving antihistamines to help reduce the release of enzymes from the immune cells. Antihistamines have a reduced risk of complications when compared to cortisone administration; however they are also usually less effective in alleviating the symptoms.
Another treatment option is a desensitization protocol by your veterinarian in which, initially, a small amount of the offending antigen is given by injection. Gradually increasing the amount of the antigens injected on a strict schedule may slowly acclimatize the horse to the antigen and reduce symptoms. This treatment method is relatively expensive and requires a long time to reap benefits, if at all.


Many horse owners overlook the fact that healthier skin is more resilient to sweet itch. Because certain nutrients can help improve the skin’s resistance to dermatitis, it’s worthwhile looking into nutritional supplements that can strengthen connective tissue proteins.
Adding a nutritional supplement supporting healthy skin that contains omega fatty acids, phospholipids, minerals, amino acids, and vitamins to your horse’s diet can greatly diminish the effects of allergic skin disease. An excellent option is Farrier’s Formula® Hoof and Coat Supplement for Horses. This concentrated nutrient source supplies nutrients to help strengthen connective tissue proteins, especially collagen, thereby improving the skin’s resistance to dermatitis.


Your veterinarian and farrier are excellent resources for additional information, or contact our EU Sales Rep, Karen Zetsche.

 

Scott Gravlee, DVM, CNS
J. Frank Gravlee, DVM, MS, CNS
Equine Nutrition Consultants
Life Data Labs, Inc

 

 

  • The Causes and Management of Sweet Itch (Summer Dermatitis) +

      The Causes and Management of Sweet Itch (Summer Dermatitis) Sweet itch in horses, also known as summer dermatitis, is an allergic hypersensitivity reaction to biting flies or midges. Midges breed and hatch in stagnant water, and are more abundant around dense vegetation. Although smaller than mosquitoes, they often make Read More
  • Allergic dermatitis in dogs: what can be done? +

    Allergic dermatitis in dogs: what can be done? 1. What are dog allergies?2. Commonly used treatments3. The most overlooked step4. Summary Allergies in people usually create respiratory symptoms; however dog allergies usually create skin rashes, smelly skin, ear infections, oily flakey skin, chewing, scratching and feet licking. In medical terms, Read More
  • Nutrients that Influence Hoof Health +

    Nutrients that Influence Hoof Health The nutritional demands of domesticated modern horses are much different than the nutritional demands of wild horses. A myriad of feed stuffs and supplements have been developed and marketed in reaction to these changing needs. While proper supplementation can provide numerous benefits, insufficient or excessive Read More
  • Protecting the hooves during summertime +

    Protecting the hooves during summertime It’s during the hot and dry days of summer that we typically see a rise in dry hooves. Dry and brittle hoof walls will often crack and chip, especially on solid surfaces. Then a thunderstorm arises and forces the horse to stand in mud for Read More
  • Can the Amino Acid Tryptophan Help Nervous Horses? +

    Can the Amino Acid Tryptophan Help Nervous Horses? Amino acids are protein building blocks that, depending on the combination in which the body assembles them, become enzymes, tissue, or hormones. There are two kinds of amino acids: 1)    Non-essential amino acids, which can be manufactured in the body.2)    Essential amino Read More
  • Factors that Affect Hoof Quality +

    Factors that Affect Hoof Quality Hoof wall defects can develop as a result of one or more contributing factors. To name a few, hoof wall quality can be influenced by genetics, environment, microbes, trimming, and nutrition. Genetics: Breeds such as Thoroughbreds are genetically predisposed to have thin hoof walls and Read More
  • Preventing Obesity in Idle Horses +

    Preventing Obesity in Idle Horses. A horse who does little, if any work, and is overfed can be compared to a person with a desk job eating like a professional athlete in training. The result will be fat storage and increased risk of metabolic diseases. For the horse, the metabolic Read More
  • Hooves and Muddy Conditions +

    Hooves and Muddy Conditions The mud and muck that comes along with the rainy season can wreak havoc on horse’s hooves. The resulting softening of the hoof capsule not only leads to increased wear and tear, but also creates an ideal environment for the invasion of “hoof eating” microbes that Read More
  • Can Excess Dietary Salt Affect Hoof Quality? +

    Can Excess Dietary Salt Affect Hoof Quality? Salt, or sodium chloride, is a necessary component of a horse’s diet and metabolism. However; too much salt will increase thirst and urination. Hoof quality can deteriorate from the additional urine and moisture in the environment. Horses that are confined for periods of Read More
  • How to Choose an Equine Nutrition Supplement +

    How to Choose an Equine Nutrition Supplement. There are so many supplements in the market. Unfortunately, it is easy for a manufacturer to enter the hoof supplement market with little or no credentials. That is why the following factors should be considered to choose a reputable nutrition supplement:1. Does the Read More
  • 1
  • 2
  • 3

Life Data Labs, Inc.

US - Life Data LabsGermany - Life Data LabsMexico - Life Data LabsAustralia - Life Data Labs

12290 Hwy 72
Cherokee, AL
35616
Product
of the USA

Phone:
+1 256 370 7555
Fax:
+1 256 370 7509
This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

12290 Hwy 72
Cherokee, Alabama
35616
Product of the USA


Phone: +1 256 370 7555
Fax: +1 256 370 7509
This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.