What Is Sweet Itch?
Sweet itch is an allergic reaction to the saliva from midge bites.
It tends to start in the summer, as midges become more active, and reduce in the winter. Any type of horse can develop sweet tch and, once a horse develops symptoms, it is likely to need constant management.
This may, or may not be onerous, depending upon the severity of the reaction. The photo above shows a relatively mild case of sweet itch, which was successfully treated using the methods below. It wasn’t too severe in comparison to some , but still distressing the see your horse in discomfort.
Sweet Itch Symptoms
Sweet itch presents in a number of different ways, often exacerbated by the horses need to rub and scratch the effected area:
- Sore skin – sometimes bleeding
- Flakey skin
- Broken skin
- Bald areas
The main and the top of the tail are areas which seem to be most at risk.
How Do You Treat Sweet Itch?
Sweet itch is all about tackling the physical symptoms and manifestation of sore skin by trying to prevent exposure as far is practical. But also essential is the ability to influence the horse internally which is the root of the problem, the two go hand in hand.
There are three areas to be tackled when treating and managing sweet itch:
- Prevention : Stop or reduce the number of midge bites
- Treatment : Dealing with the affected, and often infected, ares
- Nutrition: Ensure that your horses nutrition is
In some cases where the issue has run away with the owner, more aggressive intervention may be needed to get the problem back on track and to prevent the horse from suffering.
Never allow a situation to spiral out of control and always seek veterinary advice if you are uncertain.
Preventing exposure to the midges that cause sweet itch is clearly the most “natural’ and non-interventionist approach to managing this problem.
This can be achieved through a combination of stable management and providing a physical barrier that makes it difficult for the midges to bite.
- Avoid turnout at dawn and dusk as this is when the midges are at their worst
- Try not to stable or graze near standing water, ditches or ponds as this is where midges are at there most dense, and where they live and breed. However, there is often little that can be done about stabling or grazing location, other than moving yard which is often not practical.
Use of Fly Rugs:
Modern sweet itch / fly rugs are excellent at protecting the horse from midges and making it possible to turn out horses that suffer from sweet itch. They are light in weight and often reflective, making it good for reflecting the summer sun, keeping your horse cool as well as protected.
Is is important that the majority of the horse is covered (head, neck, belly and dock) and that the fit if the rug is good enough to offer protection.
We have been very happy with the Premier Equine range of fly rugs, which are durable, well fitting and the horses are fine with them
The following assumes that the condition is not severe enough to warrant veterinary.
There is an immediate imperative to stop the horses’ discomfort and also the cycle of itching and scratching. Treat inflamed and sore areas to relieve discomfort and irritation, the more he scratches the more it itches, a vicious circle
The application of a soothing lotion, with fly repellent properties, should provide an amount of quick relief. The organic compound Benzyl Benzoate is the active ingredient found in a number of lotions.
We found that Killitch was both soothing and reduced itching, allowing the area of sweet itch to clear up quickly when used in conjunction with a good sweet itch rug.
It’s quite thick, so stays where it is rubbed in!
The right nutrition can help maintain healthy skin and calm the over-response of the immune system.
Supplements containing garlic, as well as being good for many health issues, can have fly repellent qualities when secreted through the skin.
Dodson and Horrell Itch Free supplement contain herbs including Chamomile, Burdock Root, Nettle and Garlic Granules.
It is also said that midges dislike apple cider vinegar, which can be added to feed. Apple cider cigar also provides a number of health benefits
So many minor ailments in the horse can be managed if not solved totally by effective husbandry, physical interventions and supportive dietary supplements.