THE BITTER TASTE OF SWEET-ITCH
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While most UAE-based equestrians welcome the cooler winter weather, for those who own horses with sweet-itch- the season brings a particular kind of dread…
Which Horses are Afflicted?
Sweet itch is the most common global skin allergy in horses. It is caused by minute flying insects and is generally seasonal, where ever you are in the world. It’s also more common in certain horse breeds and Arabians, Warmbloods, Welsh ponies and Shetlands are believed to be most affected. Interestingly, a recent Czech study has found sweet-itch is also likely inherited. Onset of the allergy is most common from around three to four years old and often worsens as the horse ages. The allergy is considered a horse welfare problem and there have been extreme cases where horses have been put to sleep.
Know thy Enemy
Although it might feel like sweet itch is inevitable and the gnat or midge an invisible and formidable enemy, it really does pay to know its weaknesses. Culicoides are in general pretty poor fliers and cannot fly against the wind. Stables with a strong through draft or fans can make all the difference to how many insects actually get to your horse. The female Culicoides is particularly active around dusk and dawn, and prefers to congregate in trees and hedges, and once the eggs are ready, she ideally chooses standing water for laying and development.
What Causes Sweet-Itch?
Sweet itch can be caused by numerous types of insect, but by far the most common is the Culicoides, (also known as; gnats, sandflies, biting midges, ‘punkies’, ‘no-see-ums’). There are literally hundreds of subspecies of Culicoides found globally and each subspecies is limited to a specific geographical location. Adults are 1mm to 3mm long, and both male and females feed on plants. However, the female requires a blood meal every 3 to 5 days for successful egg production, and it is this bite and the resulting saliva proteins which cause the allergic reaction. In other parts of the world, Culicoides can cause other ‘real nasties,’ such as African horse sickness and equine viral arteritis and Bluetongue Virus.
Diagnosis can be Infuriating.
Many other allergies have very similar symptoms to sweet-itch, and one of the most common is an allergy to food. Ideally, horse owners should ensure the diagnosis is indeed sweet itch before treatment commences. The most common test is a traditional allergy test with one cell containing midge saliva. According to The Liphook Equine Hospital in the UK, there are blood tests, however, they are considerably less reliable. Sweet-itch left unattended can have serious implications. Infection, lost grazing time, macerated skin with scarring and permanent scaling can occur. According to Equisearch some extreme cases left untreated have led to itching so intense the horse is prevented from sleeping and the resulting stress has even led to gastric ulcers.
Sweet-Itch Prevention Although there are various treatments and care programmes for horses with sweet-itch, clearly the first line of defence should be prevention. ·
Keep horses inside at peak insect times (usually dawn and dusk)
Reduce standing water around stables
Encourage through-drafts in stables and turn on fans at peak times
Use flysheets/face-masks at peak times
Use a quality fly repellent daily
Sources: Liphook Equine Hospital in the UK, Science Direct, Equisearch, Parisitipedia.
The past few years have seen a explosion in equine probiotic products - but what do they do and how can we choose the best product for our horses?
What’s it all about then?
Try a simple online search for equine probiotics and you’ll discover thousands of pages of research, articles, products and advice. But, dig a little deeper, and you’ll pretty quickly discover all is not what it seems. For every fact, opinion and hypothesis there’s a slew of passionate advocates and dismissive detractors, all battling it out online. While the research on human probiotic use and benefits is impressive, for horses, we’re only just beginning. With only a few strains of microbe thoroughly researched, a liberal amount of assumption (that what works for humans should work for horses), and literally thousands of pieces of anecdotal evidence- much of the scientific community is clearly still on the fence. Given the industry’s exponential growth and the sheer number of probiotic products now available, it is essential horse owners understand the potential pros and current limitations of the products on offer- before they invest in yet another costly supplement.
Host to Trillions Your horse is home and host to trillions of microbes, bacteria, yeasts and fungi. Together these micro-organisms are known as ‘microflora.’ Although they flourish throughout the entire equine gastro-intestinal tract, the cecum and large intestine are host to the most microflora. To give you an idea of just how vast this colony is inside your horse, scientists estimate that around one-third of equine dung is composed of bacterial matter.
These organisms are essential to the horse for a myriad of reasons. When they are healthy, diverse and numerous, they protect the horse from becoming a host to ‘bad’ bacteria, like salmonella etc. They help stimulate the immune system and play an essential part in the horse’s digestion process by releasing important nutrients from food. The microflora also help the lining of the gut resist disease, increase the flow of digestion and help prevent ulcers by maintaining the correct stomach Ph.
"Many probiotic products are also mixed with other substances, such as vitamins, yeasts, electrolytes, enzymes and prebiotics."
We all know horses are creatures of habit, and so it would seem are their microflora populations. Upsets in microflora often happen when schedules change creating stressful environments for the horse, like; during longer travel, when horses compete often, even a change in management can upset the delicate balance, and of as we all know from our own health- after the use of both NSAIDs and antibiotics. And, when the microflora is negatively impacted, colic and/or diarrhea often follow.
What are probiotics? Probiotics are ‘live’ supplements fed to horses which impact the animal beneficially. Most probiotic products contain five to ten strains of bacteria and yeast which can be grown in a laboratory. These often include; Lactobacillus, Bifidobacterium, and Enterococcus as well as the yeast Saccharomyces.
How to feed probiotics Probiotics are measured in Colony Forming Units (CFUs) a measure of viable (live) bacteria or fungi. If your probiotic is a liquid it will measure in CFU/mL (colony forming units per milliliter) and if it is solid in CFU/g (colony forming units per gram). To date, there is still a lack of testing and research on dosage. Around the world, vets recommend from as low as 1 billion CFUs to 500 billion per day, making it tricky to know just how much a horse requires. Vets do agree however, it is essential to check the CFU concentration of products prior to purchase, to ensure you have maximum CFUs for your money. Sadly, not all probiotic products are created equal. Different brands offer different microbial populations, check the ingredient list and make sure it names the specific strains of microbes. Beware of those which simply state a ‘mix.’
Then what are PREbiotics? Prebiotics are oral feed supplements which do not contain live bacteria. They are designed to effectively feed the horse’s existing ‘good’ bacteria and/or improve the environment in the gut- to encourage the growth of the horses own preexisting bacteria.
There are several things to remember when buying equine probiotics. Firstly, they are considered nutraceuticals or supplements which means the manufacturer does not have to prove the efficiency of the product. While scientists still debate the overall efficiency of probiotics, the general consensus is that they do not ‘harm,’ and are generally regarded as safe, good news for anyone planning to feed in the upper CFU ranges
How to choose a probiotic
Always read the product labels; choose a product with the highest CFU you can find and always look for numerous ‘named’ organisms, simply stating a ‘mix,’ tells very little.
Many probiotic products are also mixed with other substances, such as; vitamins, yeasts, electrolytes, enzymes and prebiotics, so always check these do not conflict with other supplements you might already be feeding.
Sources: Journal of Veterinarian Medicine, Kentucky Equine research. Horse and Hound, Equus magazine.
Managing dehydration in
a normal horse
By Dr Judith Maxwell MRCVS BVSc BSc (hons)
In warmer climates, horses lose a lot more salt through evaporation of the skin and also the moisture loss through breathing. When a horse exercises the losses increase exponentially and therefore, being mindful of the losses and trying to set up a daily resource for the horse to prevent long term deficiency.
HOW WOULD YOU KNOW IF THE HORSE IS LONG TERM DEFICIENT?
There are four main salts that make up the basic profile that horses use to balance the water in their bodies. There is Sodium, Potassium, Calcium, and Chloride. Together they work to form a condition called ‘homeostasis’ which is where the cells in the body are perfectly full of water and the bloodstream has the perfect amount of water in it to keep the pressure right and the concentration of red blood cell (which carry your oxygen around your body) at a constant amount throughout the blood.
If you are deficient in these key electrolyte salts then you start to notice a lack of performance and the horse will lose its ‘sparkle’. The worse the situation gets the more noticeable this will become, so the horse may start to really resist work, show signs of muscle soreness and then eventually true ‘tying up’ of the muscles and the trembling of muscles may become evident.
The skin will lose its elasticity and looked stretched across the whole body, and the urine (pee) will become very dark, and concentrated which will also have a very strong smell associated with it. Yawning can be another sign that the horse is not feeling on top that the energy balance/hydration status is not correct. Again if this is the case the horse will feel tired and lacking energy and the general movement of the horse will appear weak and wobbly, possibly even tripping and stumbling.
HOW DO I GET ELECTROYLTES IN?
We have all heard the saying, you can take a horse to water but you cannot make it drink? This can be true from pretty much every electrolyte you can try to feed you horse. There are many sources of electrolyte that are enriched with flavouring, cherry, apple, orange and lemon.
All horses are individual and therefore some will prefer the flavour of one over another, which is just like people. I have to say I think the cherry flavouring is more widely accepted that the others out here form what I have seen, and apple is also taking reasonably easily. The main aim is to encourage the horse to eat or drink it without restriction of any other water source, and the biggest mistake I will see is the main bucket being used for electrolytes and then the horse may refuse to drink anything which will make the whole situation worse.
So try to remember to give it separately. What works for me is to mix up the electrolytes in water and then add Kwikbeet sugar beet to the water to soak and feed this to the horse after ten minutes. This will be seen as a ‘feed’ for the horse and there will be very little resistance from the horse not to drink it. Salt licks need to be discussed as I have seen an increase in the Himalayan salt in the stables around here.
They can be useful for giving the horse free access to salt, but remember this is no substitute for electrolytes and will only provide the salt (sodium) part of the diet not the full range of electrolytes.
Many people in the Middle East use electrolytes to rebalance the horse during the hotter months of the year. With good reason, as there is no feed in the world that would contain the right amount of electrolytes for a horse out here in this heat. So adding extra to the feed or water is essential for trying to maintain the health of your horse.
The majority of electrolytes available here are working on the same principle and balance ratio, however, like everything with horses, you get what you pay for! Ingredients like salt (sodium) are routinely included and the quality and source is rarely a problem, however, the further up the price list you get, the bigger variance you get in quantity and quality of ingredients.
The most critical one you will receive is Calcium and Magnesium, which are the most expensive and ironically what the horse is going to be most deficient in. The source of calcium and magnesium is essential as there are a lot of chemical forms of these products that are added to feed and electrolytes that are not absorbed very well and can require twice the amount to maintain the absorption at the right level to maintain homeostasis.
HOW DO WE CORRECT DEHYDRATION?
Primarily if the dehydration is not too bad, then we have to make sure that the horse has plenty of access to clean water, I tend to try to give the horse several different selections of water to help them choose, as the type of bucket / drinker, the material it is made from, the temperature and the source is all very important and horses are more sensitive to flavours than we originally thought.
The addition of water to everything the horse has available to them is also helpful, so making sure there is enough water in the feed (either by wetting your nuts or mix, or by adding in some sugar beet to really increase the water content) you can also soak / steam / dampen the hay to add some extra water to it, and handily reduce the dust in it.
Finally adding an apple or flavouring to the water bucket, can really help with encouraging the horse to play / investigate the water and therefore make them more likely to drink. One side note would be that date syrup is routinely added and the use of it to get a horse drinking is helpful, but be aware that it is full of sugar, so using large quantities of it will only make the horse fat.
Image by Rebecca Schönbrodt-Rühl
Replaces those essential nutrients lost through sweating and work
Copper 333 mg/kg
Sodium Chloride, Calcium Gluconate, Magnesium Sulphate, Dextrose, Potassium Chloride
This product is recommended:
- If horses are sweating heavily
- If the weather is very hot
- For horses competing on low levels of feed
- If horses are poor travellers
- During and after endurance rides
If horses sweat lightly but regularly when competing and are being fed a 'non-competition' mix
Feed 12g/100kg bodyweight per day. For example:
200-400kg pony approx 0.5-1 scoop 400-600kg
horse approx 1-1.5 scoops Scoop enclosed = 50ml
This product can either be added to a feed or can be mixed in water.
Added to the feed:
Mix well in slightly dampened feed, with clean, fresh water available in suitable quantities. Hot, sweaty horses should be offered small quantities of water frequently as required until the horse has cooled and recovered, before feeding Electrolytes.
Mixed in water:
1 scoop of Electrolytes mixed in 2.5 liters of water produces an isotonic oral rehydration solution. This can be offered during competition (e.g. endurance rides) and after work. At no stage should the horse be discouraged from drinking, and fresh, clean water should be available at all times.
In order to replenish electrolyte loss when in hard work, this product should be fed for up to 3 days post-work.
It is recommended that a specialist's opinion be sought before use. Do not exceed the recommended feeding guide without consulting Dodson & Horrell or your veterinarian.
Cupric chelate of amino acid glycine 1,390mg/kg 2
Manganous chelate of amino acid glycine 380mg/kg 1
Zinc chelate of amino acid glycine 920mg/kg
Pack sizes 2kg, 5kg, 15kg
Shelf life 24 months
For a 400kg horse fed at the recommended daily amount:
A 2kg tub will provide 41 days'
supply A 5kg tub will provide 104 days'
supply A 15kg bucket will provide 312 days' supply
Dodson & Horrell Ltd manufactures to a strict code of feed safety. This product has been manufactured in licensed premises using quality assured ingredients under strict controlled production conditions and conforms to the requirements of EU and UK legislation governing the manufacture of animal feedingstuffs. Dodson & Horrell monitors for the presence of naturally-occurring prohibited substances (NOPS) as required under the rules of racing and affiliated competitions which are in line with the established BETA UFAS NOPS guidelines. Adherence of these guidelines ensures that the risk of such substances is minimized