Itchy skin is common in horses and there are about six common causes of the problem. Six conditions are accountable for the main complaint of itching in horses and it may be the single complaint. Itching may vary from mild to severe, in which the horse gets to the point of mutilating himself just to get relief. Hair loss, skin lesions, and redness of the skin may also be presented. The six common conditions that cause itching in horses are: mange, lice infestation, food sensitivity, insect sensitivity, pinworms, cutaneous onchocerciasis, and allergies.
Mange. Two types of mange affect horses: sarcoptic and psoroptic. Both types can spread throughout the entire herd. Signs of mange can be mild to severe itching, along with lop-eared attitude and violent headshaking. Treating mange involves giving a topical solution of lindane or malathion for a duration of six weeks. Newer treatments are also available, which makes it easier to treat the condition. The use of ivermectin for horses AbIver™ of can be equally effective and is usually given at two weeks interval for three treatments.
Lice infestation. Lice infestation is given a fancy term – pediculosis. This condition is more common in winter since the parasites are unable to survive high temperatures. Itching may start on the neck area and if not treated earlier, it may spread to the entire body. Hair loss and scaling of skin can be noted. Treating pediculosis is the same as treating mange but special attention should be given to the horse’s ear, where the parasites may have survived the hot weather. The horse’s environment should also be treated.
Food sensitivity. When horses are sensitive to food, they can have generalized itching around the anus. High-protein feeds are often the causes. Treatment is simple; do not give the feed that is known to be the source of allergies for your horse.
Insect sensitivity. The most common cause of itching in horses is insect sensitivity. Saliva of biting flies can be a skin irritant. In areas with cool climatic conditions, insect sensitivity usually happens on warm weather, while in regions with tropical and subtropical climates, this problem may recur all throughout the year. Keep your environment free from insects as much as possible. If severe itching persists, the use of systemic corticosteroids may be necessary.
Pinworm infestation. Equine pinworms can cause severe itching around the anal area. It is likely that improper hygiene practices contribute to pinworm infestation since it results from ingestion of fecal-contaminated horse feed. This is more common among stabled horses. Adult pinworms reside in the colon and cecum, and the pregnant female crawls out of the rectum and deposit her eggs around the anus. The cluster of eggs causes itching, and horses are often seen rubbing is tailhead on hard surfaces. Constant rubbing and itching will result to hair loss at the tail base. A proper horse worming program is what it takes to fight off pinworms. AbIver™, AbFen™, and AbPyran™ are all effective against pinworms.
Cutaneous onchocerciasis. This condition is common among horses that are 4-5 years old. Onchocerca species are equine parasites that can inhabit the connective tissues. The parasite larvae can be found on the skin, and the dead or dying ones cause the itching. The itching will be concentrated on the neck, face, belly, and withers, and hair loss and skin scaling may also result. This condition can be treated with routine administration of ivermectin dewormer, AbIver™.
Allergies. Allergic reactions may be caused by allergens such as dust mites, cotton, feathers, pollen, wool, and insects. Allergic reactions can be found on the face, neck, ears, belly, and legs. Respiratory signs may also present.