Queensland Itch

What causes Queensland or sweet itch?

Infections, allergies and parasites are generally the most common allergy creating causes of itching in horses.

The cause of Qld Itch of sweet itch, is often put down to a hypersensitivity to the bites of sand flies (midges). An allergic reaction caused from the saliva of biting insects which results in irritation and inflammation of the horses’ skin.

If you have ever dealt with your own horses or simply witnessed someone else’s horses displaying signs of the itch, it can be quite distressing for both the horse and owner.

Is Queensland Itch genetic?

According to research, Equine Infectious Diseases second edition suggests, “Types I and IV hypersensitivity reactions to multiple salivary antigens are implicated in the pathogenesis, and a genetic predisposition has been shown in several breeds”.

Only certain horses are susceptible but animals of all ages, breeds, colour and sex may be affected. Some studies go as far to say remove animals predisposed to the condition from your breeding program.

Is Queensland Itch Contagious?

While some horses are more susceptible than others, many articles would suggest that the itch is not contagious. However a study conducted in England discovered that if they drew the blood from a horse that suffers from the itch, and injected it into a horse that doesn't suffer, that that horse will now suffer.

Culicoides hypersensitivity is rarely a stand-alone condition. “To complicate things, the majority of horses that are sensitized to gnats are also atopic, a genetically inherited condition that occurs in various species, including people, where there is a propensity toward building allergies to whatever comes your way.” According to Rosanna Marsella, DVM, Dipl. ACVD, professor at the University of Florida’s College of Veterinary Medicine, in Gainesville. 

How can I stop my horse from itching?

In many areas, the itch is seasonal, so reducing the exposure to the cause of the issue is one of the best ways to reduce the symptoms.

Stabling your horse during times where the insects are most active and ensuring your horse is rugged.

Affected areas of the body might include:

·        Mane and tail;

·        Ventral midline (the center of the belly);

·        Legs;

·        Face and ears; or

And if your horse is extremely unlucky, they will suffer from a combination of these.

The equine market is an absolute mine field when it comes to different lotions and potions that all claim to treat the queesland itch.

Insecticides and fly repellents including permethrin, cypermethrin, Deet, light oils, citronella for example may help in mild cases but need to be applied frequently.  There are also many herbal remedies on the market for you to choose from.

Pyrethrin, however, whilst a naturally produced insecticide, is not a true repellent. Active ingredients to look for include:

·        1% permethrin;

·        0.15% cypermethrin, a synthetic ­pyrethroid;

·        10% concentrated permethrin marketed for equids and livestock, diluted one part concentrate to 10 parts water to make a 1% solution; and

·        45% permethrin spot treatment (applied to the poll to repel insects from face and ears).

The product should also contain a substance that binds to the hair, particularly when humidity and sweat come into play. While many product manufacturers advertise long-term coverage, you typically must apply the 1% spray products up to twice daily.