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Sweet-itch is an itchy skin disease triggered by midges. An allergic reaction results from the midges’ saliva when they feed. The resultant inflammation results in itchiness with rubbing and biting.
The condition results whenever midges are active and feeding, and as Dorset is relatively mild the midges are active most of the year. Particularly bad times are March to October. If the temperature falls below about 5oC the midges die and the condition may resolve.
Any equidae (horse, pony or donkey) can be affected, but native ponies seem particularly prone. There is some evidence that there is a genetic susceptibility; so an affected mare is more likely to have a foal that develops the disease.
Essentially the horse will have itchy skin and rub or bite itself. Typically the skin either side of the mane (see photo opposite) and/or at the top of the tail is affected. Less commonly the face or belly may be inflammed.
The damage that the horse inflicts will manifest as: hair loss, abrasions, weeping sores, and thickened scaly skin
Stopping the midges biting will obviously avoid the problem, but this is not so easy practically
Could my horse or pony have another problem?
About 90% of itchy ponies do have Sweet Itch but other diseases can result in similar itchy skin problems. Some examples include:
1. Other allergies– Usually fly bites but could include food or contact allergies.
2. Skin parasites– Mainly lice, but could be ringworm or rainscald.