Tackling itching and ageing

Older horse care and sweet itch advice

The latest in Redwings’ series of free seminars provided a fascinating insight into two common challenges regularly faced by horse owners; sweet itch and caring for a veteran horse.

Redwings’ senior veterinary surgeon Nicky Jarvis is not only passionate about supporting horses as they age, she delivers accredited training to other vets in this area. She is also a wonderfully entertaining speaker!

Covering topics such as weight loss, dental care, arthritis and obesity, Nicky shared her experience of how simple changes that can make a big difference to a horse with age-related conditions; raising the height of feeding bowls is more comfortable for horses with stiffness in their front legs for example, and warming water slightly in cold winter weather will spare horses with sensitive older teeth pain when they drink.

Nicky also reminded her audience of the importance of routine care to maintain veteran health as immune systems age and healing slows. Regular dental checks are vital (research has shown that a staggering 60% of horses aged 15 or over showed signs of gum disease) and worming (including worm egg counts), vaccinations and sympathetic farriery will all help keep an ageing horse healthier for longer.

The importance of social and psychological health was also emphasised. Changes in relationships with companions, the effects of discomfort or lack of energy and the importance of social interaction are all factors that should be monitored and managed if needed.

Finally, with assistance from plastic horse “Blackie” Nicky demonstrated the causes of one of the most common age-associated conditions, PPID (also known as Cushings syndrome). Download our leaflet for more information on this condition.

After Nicky’s exploration of veteran horse care, Redwings veterinary nurse Anna Clarke shared her clinical knowledge of sweet itch, the most common skin allergy affecting 3-5% of horses in the UK, including one of Anna’s own!

Sweet itch is caused by an allergic reaction to the saliva of the culicoides midge but that it is not the only possible cause of itchy and irritated skin, so it is important to have the condition properly diagnosed to make sure a horse is being treated and managed for the right thing.

As an allergy, there is no cure for sweet itch and the best management is to limit the number of midges that can access the sufferer’s skin. Environment can play a big part in this; midges like damp ground, open water, lush vegetation and still air so opting for an open, breezy field on well-drained soil away from ponds and streams will make a big difference! Using sweet itch rugs, fly repellents, stabling at dusk and dawn (midges’ most active periods) and even installing ceiling fans in stables have all been shown to reduce the effects of sweet itch.

More seminars are planned later in the year and we look forward to welcoming new and returning faces. ‘Love Your Horse’ a special one-day event in Essex on Saturday 21st May, click here for details.