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  • Writer's pictureKaty Stanlake

Spotlight on Sweet Itch

Sweet Itch flyer 2021-2022 for emailing
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Sweet Itch…? Really?

But it’s the middle of winter! Can’t I just wait until the summer…?

Well – NO is unfortunately the answer. Let’s look at sweet itch a little more:

What is Sweet Itch?

Insect bite hypersensitivity (IBH), also known as ‘sweet itch’, is caused by an allergy to the bite of flies or midges, particularly one of the Culicoides species. Proteins in the saliva of midges can cause a local allergic reaction on the skin. The disease is usually noticed from four years old but can become more severe as horses get older. There’s also a genetic component, and offspring of affected mares or stallions may also suffer.

What should I be looking for?

IBH is the most common cause of itching in horses. Signs are generally seen from Spring to Autumn, and are worst at dawn and dusk, especially on hot and humid days. Horses are most commonly affected along their mane and around the base of the tail but may extend to involve the face, ears, neck, belly and shoulders.

Recognise those symptoms?

So we’re sure you’re now asking, what can I do about it?

Your vet will be able to diagnose sweet itch from relevant history and the signs, however other testing options, such as intra-dermal skin testing, are available. The best tool in fighting sweet itch is prevention, such as fly sprays, rugging, stabling at peak midge times and stable modifications. Treatment options can include topical shampoos, steroid treatment and supplementation.

Sweet Itch Vaccine

Penbode Equine Vets have been running successful sweet itch vaccine trials since 2018 and will be continuing to import the vaccine from Germany under a special licence.* Each year we have had great feedback from our clients who participated and have found that over 60% of horses given the vaccine showed an improvement in their sweet itch signs.

How to get involved

If you would be interested in taking part in the 2022 trial please contact Penbode Equine Vets. You must place your order on or before December 24 2021.

We will then be able to call you to collect payment. We will be able to confirm how much this is as soon as we have received the orders as the cost is calculated on the number of vaccines ordered. However, we expect the price to be about £250 per horse which includes the two vaccinations and visit fees. The vaccine course comprises two injections, two weeks apart and must be carried out in advance of the sweet itch season to have any affect. Therefore, we recommend booking your own appointments on your area day, from February onwards.

*No clinical trials of the vaccine have been conducted, so the reports of efficacy in sweet itch are entirely anecdotal, although it is reported that 60% of sweet itch cases improve after vaccination. *Currently licensed in Europe for ringworm control in horses but is not licensed in the U.K.

Please note the conditions of participation and use. Please ask Penbode Equine Vets for more information

Conditions of use

1. The horse/pony must be the property of, or kept by, a registered client of Penbode.

2. We must visit and examine the horse/pony in the first instance, and a special consent form must be signed.

3. The vaccine must be paid for in advance.

4. It is necessary to start the vaccine course before the sweet itch season is in full swing.

5. We recommend you continue to use all other methods of sweet itch control alongside the vaccine.

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