Support for Sweet Itch in Horses

How Nutrition Can Help

The Root of the Problem

An allergy is an immune disorder characterized by hypersensitivity to specific substances called allergens that result in an excessive inflammatory response. Most commonly, allergic reactions affect the skin and respiratory airways in horses and generally develop in response to exposure to molds, spores, insect bites, and certain proteins present in pasture grasses.

Controlling Sweet Itch

Sweet itch or summer itch, technically known as Culicoides hypersensitivity, is a type of chronic and seasonal dermatitis. The skin reacts to the saliva of bites from Culicoides spp., which are known in different parts of the country as midges, biting gnats and no-see-ums. Sweet itch in horses can be especially difficult to control during the spring and summer months. Careful management of sweet itch, as well as other skin allergies, is imperative to prevent a horse from harming himself by rubbing itchy, irritated skin. Severe rubbing can cause hair loss of the coat, mane and tail, as well as areas of broken skin and open sores that can then become vulnerable to infection and summer sores. Some shampoos and sprays are effective at repelling biting insects, as well as fly sheets that cover from ears to tail. Cleaning water troughs often disrupts the breeding areas of midges. Stabling horses at dusk and dawn may help to avoid times with high concentrations of biting insects. Fans to circulate and disturb the air are helpful in barns. Steroids are often successful in treating acute skin irritation.

How a Balanced Diet and Supplementation Can Help Your Horse

Dietary management is another way to both prevent and also alleviate allergies from the inside out. Fatty acids are constituents of every single cell membrane throughout the body of the horse. There are several types of fatty acids, but specifically omega-6 and omega-3 fatty acids are directly correlated to the allergic response. Metabolites of the omega-6 fatty acids induce strong inflammatory responses, which have been linked to many chronic disorders. In contrast, omega-3 fatty acids have the capability to produce inflammatory-resolving or anti-inflammatory effects that can protect against chronic diseases associated with inflammation, including allergies. Flaxseed and flax oil contain nutrients that are precursors to both docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA). DHA and EPA are long chain omega-3 fatty acids that control allergic responses by moderating both the immune and inflammatory state of the horse. Omega-3 fatty acids are also called “essential” fats due to the fact that the horse’s body cannot produce them internally, and so they must be consumed in the diet each day.

The Role of Omega-3 Fatty Acids

Omega-3 fatty acids have been proven to reduce skin inflammation and the allergic response. Numerous studies support the fact that omega-3 fatty acids lessen an allergic reaction. As evidence of the positive effects of the omega-3 fatty acids, one study showed allergic skin reactions to the extract of Culicoides spp., the aggravator of sweet itch, were reduced in horses after 42 days of flaxseed supplementation (O’Neill W, McKee S, Clarke A. Can J Vet Res 2002). Another in-house trial looked specifically at skin reactions to common allergens following intradermal skin injections in horses receiving Platinum Performance® Equine, which contains flaxseed and flax oil, algal DHA, and various micronutrients. All reactions were significantly reduced after 11 weeks of supplementation. Wheal sizes for a Mixed Grass antigen decreased by more than 50% post-injection in horses ingesting the supplement when compared to their values prior to supplementation. Similar results were noted in response to the Mosquito Culicidae and Culicoides spp. antigens.

The Benefits of Thymus Extract and Quercetin

Other nutritional ingredients such as thymus extract and Quercetin can have a positive impact on allergic response. Thymus extract activates and balances the immune system. It promotes the maturation and activity of specific immune cells that help control allergic responses. Quercetin is widely used for its antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. Quercetin is a natural antihistamine and inhibits key enzymes known to produce strong pro-inflammatory mediators.

Emily Smith

by Emily Smith, MS,
Platinum Performance®

Christy W. and Pilgrim

“Pilgrim suffered from extreme allergies. He suffered from bumps and flaky skin. He would rub himself until the bumps bled and turned into terrible sores. I could not show him because by show time he was a mess and there was no disguising it. We asked for advice from other horse professionals and tried everything from steroid shots to herbal remedies. Nothing worked. Finally, the vet told us “I know of one kind of medicine that has worked, it’s expensive, but I’ve seen it work, Platinum Skin and Allergy.” Desperate we started Pilgrim on it in January and for the first time ever, we can see his beautiful shiny face. He looks so happy this spring! Thank you Platinum!”

Platinum Performance Client since 2016
Uses: Platinum Skin & Allergy

Before and after