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Complementary veterinary medicine for horses with sweet itch

The Natural Way - specialized in itching and skin complaints and the natural treatment of horses with sweet itch, mud fever and CPL. 

In this blog series 'Alternative therapies for sweet itch' I would like to give the stage to experts who provide holistic support to horses with sweet itch.

In this article I let holistic veterinarian Rhea De Wael speak.

Complementary veterinary medicine for summer eczema itching horses, holistic veterinarian Rhea De Wael, Laura Cleirens - The Natural Way

© Veterinarian Rhea De Wael


Complementary veterinary medicine is an addition to classical, Western veterinary medicine, which also looks at management (nutrition, housing, training, etc.), the behavior of the animal, the relationship with the owner and uses other treatment methods such as Bach blossoms, herbs, essential oils, physiotherapy, Traditional Chinese medicine (Chinese herbs, acupuncture),...

A wise saying:
“It doesn't matter whether medicine is old or new, as long as it brings a cure. It doesn't matter whether the theory is Western or Eastern, as long as it has its effect.”


In Western veterinary medicine, sweet itch is described as a ' seasonal type I and IV hypersensitivity to the bites of Culicoides mosquitoes' .
Culicoides mosquitoes, also called mosquitoes, are very small mosquitoes that thrive in moist, wooded areas with little wind and are present almost all year round unless the temperature drops around freezing.

The mosquitoes are most active during the period when the sun rises or sets and prefer to bite on the mane and tail. The first symptoms usually occur at the age of 3 to 5 years and return annually, usually in a worse form.

There is a genetic component present in Icelanders, for example, which makes this breed much more susceptible to this condition.
The most common symptom is itching, which can occur immediately after the mosquito bite ( type I hypersensitivity ) or after a few days ( type IV hypersensitivity ). The itching causes the horse to chafe, making the lesions visible: hair loss, scabs, wounds, thickening of the skin, etc.

In TCM ( Traditional Chinese Medicine ), a condition, also called a disease, is caused by an imbalance in the body. The causes of this imbalance can be both external and internal.
External causes include wind, cold, warmth, heat, dryness and humidity. The most important component of sweet itch as an allergic condition is wind. Wind is yang, which means that the most characteristic feature is that the wind moves up and outwards, causing the imbalance to manifest itself on the top line, namely the head, neck and back.
The first 'external wind' symptom that becomes visible is itching, mainly seasonal itching. In addition to the external factor, the weather, wind can also be caused by a problem with liver (energy), more specifically the 'Liver Blood Deficiency'.

Heat is also an important component. Heat is yang and attacks yin. In extreme heat, the yin will even overheat and boil, producing heat toxins that will quickly spread throughout the body. The heat 'makes the blood restless'. The symptoms of this imbalance are red, swollen, warm, painful spots that occur quickly and may also bleed. These symptoms are most common with insect bites.

Internal causes of imbalance describe daily activity, nutrition and emotions. Emotions can have a major influence, for example anger and frustration will cause an imbalance in the liver or sadness will cause an imbalance in the lungs, with itching and skin problems as the main symptoms.


It is usually assumed that if a horse itches (outside the winter) and then rubs, the cause is sweet itch. However, itching can have various causes ranging from parasitic to allergies and nutritional problems.
Parasitic is classified as itching caused by lice and worms (e.g. pinworm). Other causes may be fungal or bacterial skin infection.
In nutritional problems, the itching is often due to sensitivity to proteins (e.g. alfalfa, overly fertilized grass) or too many sugars (e.g. in grass, concentrates) or overweight horses whose insulin sensitivity is dysregulated.

The main cause is AN allergy . Most allergies cause itching, but not all allergic itching is caused by the bite of Culicoides mosquitoes. Horses can also be allergic to mites (in hay, bedding), fungi, common mosquitoes, flies, grasses, grains, herbs (including nettle, plantain), trees such as birch, hazel, oak,...
To be sure that the itching is caused by an allergy to the bite of Culicoides mosquitoes , blood can be taken to determine in the laboratory which allergens the horse is sensitive to.


What does a “complementary” treatment look like?

Itching, regardless of the cause, causes stress to the horse AND to the owner, so it should be stopped as soon as possible. An adjustment to the management will be necessary, which means that adjustments will have to be made to the diet (both concentrates and roughage), the housing (e.g. in a stable with a fan and mosquito net at dawn and dusk, insecticide, etc.). ..), applying an eczema blanket (so that mosquitoes can no longer sting or there are fewer injuries when chafing).
Horses can be washed with a special shampoo to soothe the itching and a local lotion can be used to rub the affected skin. In some cases, the treatment requires that the horse be (partially) shaved in order to treat the injuries quickly.

Good supplements can be given through herbs and essential oils with properties to soothe itching and soothe skin irritation.
TCM, among others. Acupuncture, but also Shiatsu, laser acupuncture, Chinese herbs,... will treat itching, also illness, and therefore called imbalance, by restoring the body to balance. There are many acupuncture points that act on the skin, allergies, itching, etc.

The most important thing in treatment is “treat what you see”. This means that the focus is not on the 'Western' symptoms, but on what, among other things. the diagnosis points try to tell us. Acupuncture is well tolerated by most animals, including those who have a phobia of needles. The special coating on the needles makes insertion very smooth and the treatment is virtually painless, unless an acupuncture point needs to be treated that is subject to a lot of tension, which are extremely sensitive. These points can be worked with the laser (provides the same effect as needles), with massage (acupressure, Shiatsu, guashua stick).

TCM can be used to accelerate the healing process of injuries and reduce itching, but has the greatest added value if it is used preventively, i.e. before the appearance of the first symptoms in February. If the animal's body starts the 'itching season' in good health, the symptoms will be less severe or not manifest at all.

A second critical point is the period August and September. During this period the liver energy is at its lowest level and there is a higher incidence of itching with usually more serious lesions.


In some animals, especially with the hereditary form of sweet itch, all of the above, no matter how hard we try, is not enough to control the itching 100%. Desensitization can improve this. Injections are used to improve the immunological response, so that after the bite of a mosquito, fewer substances are released into the blood that cause itching. Instead of shooting an ant with a cannon, so to speak, a few downy feathers will now flutter towards it.
The last remedy, which is really necessary in extreme cases for the sake of animal welfare, is the use of medication via ingestion over the food or injection to suppress the itching. These can be either antihistamines (ensure that less or no histamine is released after the mosquito bite and therefore virtually no itching) or cortisone (inhibits the hypersensitivity reaction after the mosquito bite and will also reduce the inflammatory response in the skin).


Discover our 100 % natural Zomereczeem lotion, Mok olie, CPL olie, Natuur Shampoo and OERVOER (E-book) about healthy nutrition for itch-sensitive horses HERE.


This article was published on The Natural Way by
Laura Cleirens - 2022.04.13
Last updated: 2023.12.28

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