​​​​Nancylee Bielawski, D.V.M. C.V.M.M.P.


Zephyrhills, FL 33539

(352) 812-0042

This number does not accept text messages, please call or email TampaBayEquine@yahoo.com 

Oh, Those Itchy Horses!!

Florida horses seem to have more reasons to itch and scratch than any horses anywhere else in the US.

You know the ones, they have rubbed out :


Tail Head



Midline of belly


Sides of neck

There are a plethora of topical lotions and potions all of which claim to treat the itchy horse. The snag is, that the itch reaction is an internal response to a stimuli. So, the itch is coming from inside of the horse, which is why the topicals don't seem to make a big difference. To complicate matters, many different problems can give rise to similar itching patterns! 

Common Causes

A) Culicoides Hypersensitivity ( aka No see-um allergy, Insect Bite Hypersensitivity)

Intense itching response to the bite of Culicoides is most commonly found in the ears, face and midline plus between the forelimbs. Also bites of Black Flies and Stable Flies will cause similar reaction or exacerbate a culicoides reaction. 

Treatments- First and Foremost- management. You must reduce exposure to the biting insects.

1- Keep stalled at dawn and dusk when the bugs are most active.

2- Use effective topical bug repellents.

3- Fly sheets and masks.

4- Keep horses under high velocity fans as the wind repels the biting insects.

5- A course of steroids may be needed to alleviate the intense itch.

6- Allergy testing is a good adjunct to other therapy

7- Environmental treatment for insects is advised. 

8- Prescription strength shampoo, leave-on spray and ointment formulated with both steroids and fly barrier properties . 

9 - If a secondary bacterial infection is present, a course of antibiotics and NSAIDS will help the horse .

10- Soothing emollient- oatmeal type shampoo and lotions

B) Onchoceriasis ( aka Neck Threadworm) - microfilaria are found in the midline of the belly, face, neck, chest , withers, and between front limbs. The lesions are intensley itchy , scaly, may bleed, usually raised plaques with edema. For definitive diagnosis, you need a biopsy but often a response to treatment will be indicative.


Ivermectin and Moxidectin are often used successfully to treat this condition. 

Antibiotics and NSAIDS if indicated.

**Apply Leave In Conditioner  to any broken or rough mane hairs every day. This will help heal the rough hair and enable you to see precisely when the horse starts itching again.

C) Mosquito exposure

Horses who are turned out at dusk and dawn may be subjected to swarms of mosquitos. These horses often show signs of having small bites all over their chest/ neck, and sometimes flanks. They sometimes act a little bit panicked or anxious to get into the barn. 


1-Prescription strength anti-itch shampoo and repellents listed as above. 

2-A short course of benedryl may help the resulting hive -type swelling.

3-Other prevetion / exposure reduction as listed above.

4-fly masks

5-fly sheets

6-keep stalled under fans at dusk and dawn

7-Fly Armour Browbands

8-Environmental treatment with insecticides and remove all standing water

9- Soothing Emollient - oatmeal type shampoos and lotions

D)Allergies ( inhalent/food/enviornmental)

Horses can have an itch response to all kinds of allergies. If you have treated for the above conditions and your horse is not improving, it might be time to consider Allergy Testing. It is a quick blood draw which is sent to a lab. The lab determines the reactivity and will send a report. Based on the report, you can remove any offending food items from the diet, as well as manage pastures and environment.  The next step is to go through the immunization , desensitization series. The injections are administered using insulin-type syringes, so most horses do not even feel the injection. There is also an option for referral to a veterinary dermatology specialist.


All the locations for itching noted above are common.

Often there is can be a secondary bacterial infection from rubbing the skin raw. This can be treated with antibiotics, NSAIDS if indicated.

Please call Dr Bielawski 352-812-0042 or email tampabayequine@yahoo.com with further questions or if you would like to schedule an appointment.