top of page

Sweet Itch

Sweet Itch

Sweet itch, also known as summer itch or seasonal allergic dermatitis, can be a distressing and soul-destroying annual occurrence for both horse and owner.

In simple terms, sweet itch is an allergic reaction to the bites of mosquitos and midges, and it can affect almost any horse, regardless of type, breed and age.

In extreme cases, horses will scratch and bite themselves until they bleed in order to find relief.

Although the condition can be triggered at any time of year, depending on where you live in the world, it’s usually seen during warmer months when midges and other biting insects are most active.

Signs to Look Out For

  • Initial reactions are usually found at the base of the mane or tail, on the face, the withers, the back, belly and rump. There is often hair loss in affected areas as well as sore and inflamed skin from excess scratching or biting. Infections may then be introduced to broken skin;

  • Intense itchiness. Horses will try to scratch on anything and everything to alleviate the irritation, including using their hind hooves to itch the mane;

  • Excessive tail swishing, foot stamping, and head shaking are often ploys used by horses to keep insects away;

  • In time, the skin in affected areas will thicken;

  • Also look out for changes in your horse’s behaviour, both on the ground and ridden. You may notice they are more agitated and less focussed.

Treatment and Prevention

There is no known cure for sweet itch, making it a condition that needs to be managed. Any treatment therefore is largely based around trying to reduce the exposure of your horse to biting insects. It will need management on a yearly basis because once your horse has sweet itch it will appear every year.

What you can do to help:

  • Regular poo picking;

  • Graze your horse in areas that are well drained and windy – tiny midges find it hard to fly in windy conditions;

  • Don’t stable your horse near anything that attracts insects, such as the muck heap, ponds, stagnant water etc;

  • Use specifically designed sweet itch rugs;

  • Stable your horse from dawn to dusk when the biting insects are most active;

  • Install fans in the stable;

  • Speak to your vet if your horse is suffering severely. Sometimes steroid medication is helpful;

  • Use soothing lotions to help with the itching. Take advice from your vet about which one they think is most appropriate;

  • Use a good fly repellent. Products containing pyrethroid or permethrin are usually the most effective. Do not apply to broken or sore skin;

  • Add flax seed or evening primrose oil to your horse’s diet, along with vitamins E and C to help stimulate the immune system and remove toxins. Speak to your vet or an equine nutritionist for further dietary advice;

  • Speak to your vet about a sweet itch vaccination. This is usually a course of two injections and needs to be given before sweet itch season starts.

The above information should help you to help your horse if you suspect they are suffering from sweet itch. As always, we recommend you seek advice from your vet if you are concerned about sweet itch.

bottom of page