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Dealing with Itchy Horses?

Dealing with Itchy Horses?
Category: Horse Talk Knowledge Base
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What causes Queensland itch and what can I do to manage It? The usual cause of Queensland Itch is a hypersensitivity to the bites of sand flies (midges) of the species Culicoides. 

Your horse driving you crazy with itch?

What causes Queensland itch and what can I do to manage It?   

The usual cause of Queensland Itch is a hypersensitivity to the bites of sand flies (midges) of the species Culicoides. While the bite of the midge is an irritation, some horses develop sensitivity to the bite and will rub themselves so much that they cause injury to their skin and destroy their rugs in the process.

The cause is actually an allergic reaction to chemicals in the saliva of the midge. When this reaction occurs, specific chemicals are released in the skin. These chemicals cause an irritation, which in turn causes the horse to scratch and rub.
It occurs in varying degrees of severity in horses of various breeds, and there appears to be a genetic link. The culicoides midges feed primarily at dusk and dawn, and tend to feed on the horse at specific sites, particularly around the head, tail head, withers, and base of the mane; however other areas, including the chest, back and rump can also be affected. The midges like to breed on wet land, and around rivers, lakes and standing water, so susceptible horses kept close to these conditions are more likely to be affected.

Itchy Horses
That feels so good!

Itch Symptoms

Affected animals are very itchy and distressed, and rub and bite themselves intensely. The bites form blisters, which can weep, causing crusting, scabs and scaling. Prolonged rubbing and biting can results in hair loss and damage to the skin, with sometimes bleeding open sores.
Occasionally secondary bacterial infections can occur. In the long term, skin thickening and loss of hair pigmentation may occur. While horses don’t die from 'Queensland Itch', badly affected horses are of little use as working or pleasure animals as the itching makes them difficult to work. The damage to their coat also makes them look terrible.

Keeping midges away – management strategies:

  • Prevention is by far the best option. The best thing for an itchy horse is a physical barrier like a horse rug.  And if you can start rugging early in the season you have a much better chance of getting a longer life from your rugs as your horse won’t have a chance to get itchy!

    I know it is sad to see a horse on a hot day with a rug on, but it is the most effective means for preventing the little blighters from biting your horse. Try to use a light but durable rug as sweat will simply irritate the matter.

    At Caribu we recommend our Enduro 410gsm Fly Mesh Attached Hood Combo Rugs which are strong, but cool, with a tight weave to keep most of the insects at bay. We have designed these with Attached Hoods to include enclosed ears and for the horses that also suffer from the itch around their eyes we have eye covers that can be bought separately and sewn directly to the hood.

    You could also use ripstop or even flag depending how hard your horse is on rugs and how hot summer gets in your part of the world.
  • If your budget allows – a stable with insect screening and a fan - as midges are not strong fliers. This is an option for early morning and late afternoon when the midges are at their most active. For most of us this remains a pipe dream!!
  •  Breeding areas for midges should be eliminated i.e. standing water.

Repellents become the next level of defense.

  1. Horses should be sprayed or rinsed with a suitable product to help deter the midges. There are lots of different options on the market from pyrethrum based chemicals to the more natural alternatives like “Heritage Downs” Bug Spray and Intensive Treatment. However any sprays or rinses should be applied over a small area of skin initially to test for any reaction. Many of the natural oil based products are the most effective. We continually hear great results with Heritage Downs range.
  2. If the irritation is well under way, daily bathing with a suitable medicated shampoo can help affected animals, by removing the saliva irritants and scabs and scales off the skin can help give relief.

Lastly, not all itching or rubbing in horses is caused by 'Queensland Itch'. Itching in horses can be caused by many things, including a variety of contact allergies and even a form of worm infestation.

If you are unsure whether your horse has 'Queensland Itch' or some other skin condition, consult with your veterinarian for full advice. 

The following Link has a full Range of products for Fly & Insect Protection.

Comments on Dealing with Itchy Horses?

Judy - Cedar Creek Thursday, January 21, 2016 01:31 PM
I have 3 horses ,a shetland and a yearling arab. The only one who has trouble with biting insects is the thorougbred.
I have found using MTG at the first sign of trouble and keeping him rugged has kept him itch free this year.
Long may it last !
Suse Davies Monday, November 4, 2013 10:02 PM
Read up on the use of Tumeric mixed into a paste with olive oil and fresh ground pepper and added to feed - there seems to be a lot of people who swear by in addition to a decent rug.
Nadine Rolleston Monday, November 4, 2013 09:54 PM
I live in tropical Queensland and my mare gets bad itch, she had no mane or tail to speak of, until I started using a mix of sulphur powder, coconut oil and neem oil. I have been using this mix for more than a year now, and we have grown a full mane and tail now. This was the first mix that worked for us, we have tried many others before with only temporary results.
Ken Morgan Wednesday, September 5, 2012 08:14 AM
Shapley's MTG is a winner!!! I've tried many other products and met with varying degrees of temporary success.. My mare would go through rugs on a regular basis and scratch till she bled, and was not until I washed her with a medicated shampoo , conditioner, apply MTG and rug (Combo) that I can say she is now totally ITCH FREE with a long lustrous mane & tail.. Please try this, and save yourself a fortune searching for a fix
Leanne Anspach Friday, August 24, 2012 09:54 AM
My second horse with the qld itch, over the years I've tried everything from stop itch sprays and creams, insect repellant rugs etc, I wanted to eliminate chemical based products as I found that they weren't helping and I expected they were irritating him also, 18mths ago I began using Fido's baking soda and oatmeal shampoo a chemical free and soap free cat and dog shampoo once a week and/or after every ride combined with thoroughbred fix cream on his face. He has just gone through his first summer without a rug on!
Anna Minogue Friday, July 27, 2012 07:33 PM
Having just moved to Brisbane and not yet suffered through a summer, can anyone tell me what time of year the midgies start biting? I'd like to prevent rather than cure! Thanks
Barbara Gilbert Saturday, May 26, 2012 07:29 PM
My QH gelding was rubbing his face non stop and had rubbed the hair off completely. Due to illness I had been unable to have his routine dental check. After the Vet filed his sharp points he has not rubbed since.
Appaloosa gelding had itch some years ago and I tried everything from washes to rugs to medicines. Then I changed worm product to Genesis and I also started him on Saltbush from Eykamp at SpringRidge Rd Quirindi NSW. Used the Saltbush at minimal recommendation for probably 6 mths as I am cautious as to other side affects from products. He did seem to urinate frequently but he is now back to normal in that department and has not had any further problem. He would have been itch free for approx 4 years now. Thankfully so and may he continue on in his relaxed happy manner. It was so distressing to see him constantly rubbing and getting down to scratch his belly and onto trees scratching every way he could to find relief. A product I found useful for itchy's is Shapleys MTG. A USA product now available from a distributor here in good ol' OZ.
Amanda McMahon Sunday, March 25, 2012 03:20 PM
I have a filly that has it on her face and ears. I tried everything and nothing really worked but someone told me to try Avon skin so soft that you use for people and her itch has nearly cleared up. I was amazed by the results. (-------- Yes we have heard amazing this about the same product- Jane, Caribu)
Mary Moore Tuesday, March 20, 2012 08:25 AM
My retired Standie was fine til I moved to Grafton, I had him rugged at night as the days were hot. One night he wouldn't come up for his feed and to be rugged, cos I'm in a w/chair I couldn't get him. Next morning he was raw from mozzie bites, I got them cleaned up, but then they attacked him wherever he was sticking out of the rug combo! His skin has gone all hard and scaly looking, I'm open to any suggestions to what would help, bearing in mind it's hard for me to treat him all the time. He's rugged from his nose to tail, I have to mend his hood, especially the ears, about 3 times a week, grrrr, please help me, I hate seeing Rocket like this.
Patsy Wicks Friday, March 16, 2012 08:55 PM
We have 4 horses and 3 are itchy besides keeping them covered all summer with the great Caribu Combos we wash weekly with Wool wash with added eucalyptus and have a mix of Listerine,baby oil and citronella equal parts mix in a spray bottle and apply to all exposed areas has been very successful.It's a terrible thing and takes regular management the other thing we do is electrify anything they could rub on.
Michelle Halliday, WA Tuesday, January 24, 2012 01:46 AM
I rug my pony and have been using the Heritage Downs products on him. They work really well and his coat is looking healthier, he's also a much happier chap, Thank You!
Trev Cartington Thursday, November 24, 2011 09:08 AM
I have found prevention works best - start rugging early in the season.

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