Insect Bite Hypersensitivity

Many horse owners are quick to call a veterinarian in emergency situations, but what about less pressing ones? If your horse had a chronic, difficult-to-treat, but not necessarily life-threatening condition, would you call the vet or try to manage it yourself?

Researchers recently asked that question to owners with horses suffering from insect bite hypersensitivity (IBH, an itchy and hard-to-manage reaction to biting insects’ saliva). They found that horse owners attempt to manage the condition on their own until it becomes severe. Then, they call a veterinarian.

“I was surprised that, given the frustration that owners reported they were experiencing in trying to manage sweet itch, veterinarians were not consulted more often or earlier in the course of the problem,” said Philip Robinson, BVMS, DSVM, MSc, PhD, PgCert, TSLHE, FHEA, MRCVS, a senior lecturer in the Harper Adams University Department of Animal Production, Welfare, and Veterinary Sciences, in the U.K. He advised undergraduate student Hannah Lomas in her recent study on the topic.

The pair’s preliminary study was small and limited to eight horse owners/caretakers and an equine veterinarian, but provided a look at equestrians’ experiences with the condition.

“We need a larger sample size to investigate whether our findings have wider generalizability and what is holding horse owners back from getting veterinary advice,” he said.

Robinson and Lomas found that factors likely to delay horse owners from contacting a veterinarian include:

  • Cost;
  • The individuality of how horses react;
  • Uncertainty about how to control the condition; and
  • Confusion about how to reduce IBH risk.

“There is also a role for veterinarians to do outreach work on this condition to actively help their clients to understand what causes sweet itch and to lessen the impact of it,” he said. “I would advise owners to seek early veterinary advice to help manage sweet itch if their horse is affected.”

Despite the small sample size, the study had interesting findings, Robinson said. He hopes to secure funding to expand the study to further investigate sweet itch’s impact and management in the U.K.

The study, “A Pilot Qualitative Investigation of Stakeholders’ Experiences and Opinions of Equine Insect Bite Hypersensitivity in England,” was published in Veterinary Sciences.