Horse owners living in the more humid coastal regions of Australia will often be more than familiar with Queensland Itch. It is one of the most frustrating and annoying conditions horses can suffer from and can lead to hair loss, sores, and nasty ulcerations. It can make horses extremely uncomfortable and in severe cases prevent horses from being ridden or competed on.
Queensland Itch, also commonly known as Summer Eczema, Sweet Ich or Recurrent seasonal dermatitis is a hypersensitivity to insect bites most commonly from midges or Culicoides to be more specific. Midges are most active in the spring and summer months when they thrive in the warm humid conditions. Itch is often worse in wet areas where the midges like to breed and can be more adverse in the coastal areas and around large lakes or dams. Midges are most active around dawn and dusk, as a result you will often find your horses getting frustrated or fidgety around these times.
The most affected areas of a horse are the head, tail, withers, and the base of the mane, however depending on your horse’s sensitivity it can affect other areas of the body as well. The itching or rubbing is caused by an inflammatory response of the immune system to the insects’ bites, and allergic reaction to the chemicals in the saliva of the biting midge occurs. Once bitten the horse’s immune system goes into overdrive to attack the saliva, when this occurs specific chemicals are released in the skin causing localised irritation, this is when the horse will start scratching or rubbing in response.
What can we do to treat Queensland Itch? Unfortunately, there is no cure, in an ideal world moving your horses to a cooler dryer climate would be the best things but is not always an option. So here a few tips you could try:
- Topical Insect Repellents: re-applied daily especially in the mornings and evenings when midges are at their worst.
- Topical Lotions: to help soothe sores or lesions
- Washing in a medicated shampoo
- Rugs and hoods to stop the midges from getting access to the horses’ coat in the first place
- Stabling especially during those peak times and with fans installed in the stable will help
- In extreme cases veterinary intervention maybe needed with anti-inflammatories or other medications however this is not a long-term fix and would need to be discussed further with your veterinarian
As the winter months approach the symptoms should start to ease, you and your horse will be a lot happier. It is usually then time to pull out those donna rugs and an extra blanket for ourselves as well.