Episode 297 Sweet Itch - what is it and how to treat it
Summer is coming and so are the bugs ! Glenn and I discuss the cause of sweet itch, how to break the itch-scratch cycle and ways to control mosquitos, black flies and no see ums around your house and barn.
The TCVM segment starts at 51:19
Sweet Itch: A summer nightmare for horses
Sweet Itch aka Queensland Itch aka Culicoides hypersensitivity is one of the most common skin problem in horses and is also the hardest to treat. It is a horse owner's worst nightmare !
Sweet Itch is an allergy to insect bites. Mosquitos, black flies and no-see-ums have all been implicated as the cause of extreme itching and scratching which can lead to hair loss of at the mane,tail and belly, self trauma, and multiple open wounds with secondary bacterial infections.
The saliva of these little blood suckers contains allergens that cause an intense itching. The horses will try to scratch on anything available to relieve the itch and in doing so can cause deep wounds and hair loss. Once the itching has begun, it is very difficult to control so preparation and prevention is key. The biological process is similar to hot spots in dogs which is caused by an allergy to flea bites. See my blog post about hot spots in dogs.
Why do some animals have allergies to certain things and some do not ? The answer is that allergies are cumulative. You may have a tolerance for pollen and cats and dust if exposed to any one of those things alone, however, if you encounter all 3 at once, your immune system will over react. You will be pushed beyond your allergy tolerance threshold, your body will release inflammatory mediators like histamine and cytokines that cause watery eyes, itchy skin, hives, sneezing, coughing and if severe, may constrict your airway. The same is true in horses. They are exposed to lots of allergens in their daily life, mold, dust, pollen and bugs but when the swarms of biting flies emerge in the summer, they are pushed beyond their allergy threshold.
Recognizing the symptom is key. The photos below show advanced stage disease.
Let’s talk about prevention. Before the fly season begins you can prepare your horse and barn with some diet and lifestyle changes.
1. Reduce contact with Insects
I know easy to say, hard to do. Most biting flies have a feeding pattern. Culicoides and gnats favor dusk and dawn while mosquitos are most active from dusk through early evening. Keeping your horse in the stable with a strong fan with plenty of fly spray may help. Fly sprays are short acting but can provide some relief. Some natural alternatives are Eco-vet and Repel which is made with Oil of Lemon Eucalypus. Gnats and no see ums are not strong fliers and will avoid the turbulence of a fan. When they do go out, fly sheets and face masks are a great help.
To reduce the number of biting flies in your stable area you can reduce the breeding ground areas like stagnant water, long weeds and manure piles. A natural way to reduce emerging larvae is to treat ponds, streams and standing water with BTI aka mosquito dunks. Bacillus thuringiensis subspecies Isralensis, is a naturally occurring bacteria in soil. It produces toxins that only affect the larvae of mosquitos, blackflies and gnats. It is safe for all other animals, insects and plants and approved for pest control for organic farms. Spray BTI in ponds, use dunks in running water or drainage ditches. Make traps with bti in buckets of water with grass clippings or pulled weeds. Mosquitos and gnats will lay eggs there but they will never hatch. Goldfish and mosquito fish may be available from your county free. Dump water troughs every few days and some shell or gravel around the trough will prevent muddy puddles from becoming gnat nurseries.
2. Reduce contact with other allergens
Mold and Dust are part of a horse's daily life. To reduce exposure, do not sweep or blow the barn aisle when horses are inside ! This is one of the worst things you can do to your horse's immune and respiratory system. Feed high quality hay and wet it down or soak it in a net for a few minutes before feeding. Do a full cleaning of the inside of the barn before allergy season.
Inflammatory Foods processed foods and an unbalance ratio of omega 6 to omega 3 fatty acids tend to contribute to inflammation. Black oil sunflower seeds are high in vit E but have a high level of Omega 6. This ratio can be balanced to the ideal level of 1-4:1 (meaning approx 1-4 parts omega 6 to 1 part omega 3) by adding Chia seeds which are very high in Omega 3s.
3. Increase your horse's allergy threshold
You can increase your horse's allergy threshold by increasing the levels of omega 3 fatty acids in the diet. As mentioned above, chia seeds are a great source of omega 3s and horses love them. Antioxidants can also help increase your horse's allergy threshold. Some foods therapy suggestions for horses are seaweed (kelp or spirulina), gogi berries, spinach, green tea, ginger and of course, Dr. Doug's favorite, turmeric.
4. Avoid Immuno-stimulants
Vaccines stimulate the immune response to protect your horse from disease. Try to vaccinate early in the season before the emergence of biting flies. Killed vaccines and ultra purified vaccines do not cause as strong of an immune response as modified live and recombinant vaccines.
So you have taken all the steps for prevention and your horse still has sweet itch. Now it is time to treat. Treat early in the course of the disease if possible when you first see the signs of hair loss and itching.
The TCVM diagnosis is Wind (Itching) and Damp Heat (red crusty inflamed and infected skin)
Acupuncture and Chiropractic Care can help reduce the itching and rebalance the immune system. To find a veterinarian trained in TCVM near you, search by your zip code at the Chi Institute page www.tcvm.com.
Herbal Therapy includes formulas to Tonify the Blood to stop itching and Clear Heat.
Damp Heat Skin or Wind Toxin Formula can help relieve the itching and inflammation in the skin.
Food therapy is a very important part of the treatment. As mentioned above, omega 3 fatty acids and antioxidants need to be included in the diet. Food that Tonify Blood and Cooling foods can be beneficial. Apricots and dates Tonify Blood, Barley, cucumber and green tea can Drain Damp and are Cooling.
So as you can see, sweet itch can turn into a mid summer nightmare for you and your horse. Do your best to prepare for the season and change the things you can control. You don't need to do them all. If you live next to a creek or if the barn manager refuses to turn the horses out before they blow the barn, well ok you have to live with it but at least you can add some food therapy treats or some herbs or sneak some BTI into your neighbor's pond to get you one step closer to a happier, healthier summer.
The Art and Science of Traditional Chinese Veterinary Medicine is based on the principles of the yin and yang, the balance and harmony of the universe and the 5 element theory to recognize the patterns of disease.
Chiropractic focuses on the relationship between the structure and the function of the body and how that relationship affects the preservation and restoration of health.
Chinese medicine & Chiropractic attempt to find the root of the problem and treat the root to bring the animal back to harmony and good health.
Sport horses live a stressful life of travel, exposure to disease, physical and mental exertion. A wellness program is essential to keep your equine athlete happy, healthy and competing at the highest level. Dogs, Cats and other pets experience stress to their immune system and qi from the environment, lifestyle and changes in the household. Wildlife and exotics can experience stress from simply surviving in a captive environment.
5 Element theory can also help you understand the personality of your animals so you can have a more rewarding relationship. This is the first step in a harmonious household and successful training program. Basic behavior consults are part of every exam. Is your cat urinating outside the litter box ? Is your dressage horse unhappy ? Is your sweet old dog getting aggressive ? Maybe a more in depth behavior exam with all animals in the household or in a performance setting could help.
A combination of Acupuncture, Chiropractic care, Tui Na, Food and Herbal therapy can be very effective for disease treatment and prevention. Chinese medicine can work with western medicine to enhance the healing process and lessen the side effects of drugs.
We also offer integrative wellness plans that include titer tests, vaccinations, deworming, flea and heart worm prevention, Coggin's tests and health certificates plus nutritional supplements in our online store.
Episode 295 : Turmeric Food Therapy with Dr. Doug English.
Australian Veterinarian, Farmer and Marathon runner Doug English has become a world leader in the use of turmeric to treat ailments in animals. His facebook group Turmeric User Group (TUG) has 250,000 members and his Turmeric life website is packed with informative articles and updates on his latest research. Listen in as he tells us about using turmeric in his practice, his current research and how you can become a part of his turmeric life community.
TCVM segment begins at 28:30
How to use Turmeric with your Animals
Turmeric root, Jiang Huang or Yellow Ginger is a commonly used ingredient in Asian, Middle Eastern and Indian cooking. If you have ever eaten Tandoori, Curry, Satay or Singapore noodles, you have eaten turmeric. Turmeric alone is not spicy but it is usually mixed with spicy herbs and chili powder to give the dish a spicy kick. Food therapy principles for “Clearing Heat” are to use foods with Cold properties and then to Open the Exterior to allow the heat to escape. Curry paste, a blend of turmeric with cooling properties plus chili powder which causes you to sweat (open the pores) would be following these TCM principles.
Many of our herbal formulas contain turmeric as a main ingredient. These issues all have a degree of Heat (inflammation and/or infection) :
Incorporating Turmeric Root powder into your pet’s diet is a very good way to help control some of their most common ailments, like arthritis pain, itchy skin, diarrhea and anxiety.
So how do you get started ? Read on for Dr. Doug's recommendations about preparing golden paste and dosages for pets and horses. For more info about Turmeric and to read Dr. Doug’s latest research, subscribe to Turmeric Life.
Here is some great advice from Dr. Doug about using Turmeric as Food therapy for your animals.
GOLDEN PASTE for - Humans - Dogs - Cats - Birds – Reptiles – Fish
We are all animals and turmeric benefits all !
Start humans and dogs at ¼ teaspoon 2 to 3 times a day, with food. Small dogs and cats 1/8 tsp. If your gut biota does not tolerate it, you will get some diarrhea. If ok, double dose every 3 or 4 days until you are at 1 teaspoon doses with food and 3 to 4 times a day.
To make Golden Paste (GP):
Can add the oil now or later when consuming.
Place turmeric and water in pan, bring it to the boil then reduce to a simmer. Stir over gentle heat until you have a thick paste. This should take about 7-10 minutes.
Or if you are adding turmeric powder to a stew, it is exactly the same as making golden paste and it will be assimilated into the food.
Move from stove, let it cool down, add the pepper and oil at the end of cooking.
Preferred oils are coconut, olive. You do not have to add oil now because it can be added later when consumed. Some like to put it all together at preparation though.
Stir well (a whisk is ideal) and allow to cool. Ideally store in sterilized glass jar, or purpose designed plastic and refrigerate.
Will keep for 2 weeks, refrigerated. You can freeze portions if you think you have too much and it will keep for a year, at less than 0 degrees C.
Start slowly with 1 tsp of Golden Paste or dry powder.
Standard dose is 2 tsp of Turmeric Powder, 2 tsp Oil, 16 grinds freshly ground Black Peppercorns 2 times a day.
Horses may or may not do better on GP and there is a lot of evidence that they assimilate dry powder very effectively. Being a herbivore it is a given that they digest plant matter much better than humans or dogs.
Maximum will be a half cup of GP or powder at any one time but good results are seen with a lot less and normally 2 teaspoons of GP or even 2 teaspoons of powder are sufficient.
For sarcoids at least a tablespoon of powder is needed once or twice daily.
Ruminants small and large ( goats, sheep, llama and cows)
These do just as well on neat turmeric powder because of their very efficient ruminal digestion. 1 teaspoon.
They do very well on it: mix a ¼ tsp (or more if preferred) per bird into a small amount of grain. Pour boiling water to wet well, mix and sit for an hour. Feed out.
In Episode 294 : GMHA and Dr. Coggin's Test
We talk to Dr. Oscar Fletcher who was the Dean of NCSU-CVM from 1992-2004 (my Dean from way back in the 90s) to share his memories of Dr. Coggins and his insights on the history and importance of Dr. Coggins' Test.
TCVM segment starts at 29:35
Why do we do the Coggins Test ?
In our practice, we sometimes have clients ask...
"Why does my old retired horse need a coggins, he doesn’t go anywhere ?"
or they say, " Have you ever seen a positive ?"
Well thankfully no, I have never seen a positive and I hope from routine testing, I never will. With our ever increasing urbanization of the USA, even horses who don’t travel, live in close proximity to others so we have to think about herd health on a large scale.
To understand the necessity of the Coggins Test, let's look at the history of Equine Infectious Anemia and the man who's pioneering work developed the test, Dr. Leroy Coggins.
What is the Coggins Test ?
The coggins test looks for antibodies for equine infectious anemia in the horse's blood by using the Agar Gel Immunodiffusion (AGID) test. Equine Infectious anemia is a lentivirus in the same family as HIV and FIV. These are retroviruses meaning they insert themselves into the host cell's DNA to replicate. Because of this, horses are infected for life and there is no cure and any horse with antibodies to EIA is infectious to other horses.
The virus is spread by biting flies such as horse flies or deer flies. Because the bite is so painful, a fly may bite one horse and then be swatted off only to come back immediately to finish their meal. EIA can also be spread by contaminated needles, blood products and dental equipment. In 2015, an outbreak in racing quarter horses in California resulted in 34 horses being infected. 250 more horses on 19 farms were exposed and had to undergo 60 days of quarantine and testing.
The 3 phases of infection
The acute phase begins within 3 days to 2 weeks after infection. Horses will have a high fever, edema, be lethargic and anemic. 30 % of horses will die. These horses carry a high viremic load and 1 ml of their blood can infect 1 million horses ! A horse during the acute phase may test negative on the coggins test because he has not made antibodies to the virus yet.
The 70 % who survive can be chronically infected or become inapparent carriers.
Chronically infected horses may show general signs of weakness, weight loss, depression and a recurring fever. Very general signs right ? These horses will test positive on a coggins test and 1 ml of their blood can infect 10,000 horses !
The inapparent carrier state as the name implies shows little if any sign of infection. In these cases only 1 horsefly in 6 million will transmit EIA. However stress or another illness can cause a relapse and these horses can revert back to the chronic or acute phase and their viral load will increase.
I bet you didn't know that there really was a Dr. Coggins behind this test.
Dr. Leroy Coggins was one of the founding administrators of NCSU College of Veterinary Medicine. He was the head of the department of Microbiology, Pathology and Parasitology. He was a well loved and respected researcher, professor and mentor. Read more about Dr. Coggins at the NCSU-CVM site
EIA has been reported in all parts of the world and was 1st recognized in the US in 1890. Outbreaks were usually noted at racetracks because infected horses were brought into close quarters with other young, stressed horses. There were states designated as "hot zones" which included the southeast. At the time, the vector had yet to be determined but horses who were infected seemed to live or come from hot, damp climates and EIA was given the common name of “swamp fever”.
During the 1960s, Dr. Leroy Coggins was working on his PhD in virology at Cornell University when a major outbreak occurred on Standardbred Farms in New York. By 1970, Dr. Coggins had developed a test using the AGID method to detect antibodies to Equine Infectious Anemia. Previously, a donor horse inoculation test was the only test available to screen chronically infected or exposed horses which took 4 to 8 weeks and was very expensive both monetarily and morally.
In 1973, the USDA made the Coggins test the gold standard for determining exposure and prohibited any “positive reactor” from moving across state lines. Individual states determine the requirements for entry and that same year, Florida was the 1st state that required any horse being sold, moved, raced or shown to be tested and for positive horses to be quarantined or euthanized. Of course this was a shock to many horse owners who had inapparent carriers. Their horses did not look sick and there was little educational material for the general horse owner about Equine Infectious Anemia.
Thankfully the Florida Department of Agriculture had the foresight to enforce these regulations to attempt to control the spread of EIA using Dr. Coggins’ Test. In 1970, 12 % of horses tested in Florida were positive. By 2000, this number dropped to 0.016% and there were zero cases of EIA in Florida in 2016 !
Nation wide, the value of the Coggins test was similar. In 1972 about 4% of horses tested nationwide were positive. By 1980, this number dropped to less than 1%. There are still occasional outbreaks reported. However mandatory routine testing seems to be keeping the prevalence to a minimum.
Now that you know some details about EIA are you rethinking the importance of your coggins test ?
For more info about EIA check out these links
USDA-APHIS Federal Guidelines
USDA-APHIS EIA discussion group notes 2015
Florida Department of Agriculture
In Episode 253 : Vaccine Induced Lyme's Syndrome, Artist and Horse Trainer, Aeron Mack of Middleburg, VA tells us about her Vaccine induced Lyme's Syndrome research and shares her story of bringing her horses back to health. You can also find great resources about Lyme's disease and Vaccine Induced Lyme's Syndrome onAeron's blog page.
The TCVM segment starts at 40:30.
Lyme's Disease and Vaccine Induced Lyme's Syndrome