How to treat sweet itch in horses - and prevent it from happening again

Does your horse suffer skin irritation that makes it scratch and become sore? 

This could be caused by sweet itch, and there are ways you can treat affected horses all year round and prevent it from happening again. Happy horse, happy owner, right? 

What causes sweet itch on a horse’s skin?

Sweet itch is the most common allergic skin disease among horses. It is caused by an allergic reaction to bites from midges, lice and black fly or horse fly. A horse affected by sweet itch is hypersensitive to the saliva from these insect bites. 

According to World Horse Welfare, sweet itch affects around 5% of our horse population. 

We’ve put together this handy guide on how you can treat sweet itch in horses, so you can make sure that your horse won’t be miserable!

How do I know if my horse has sweet itch?

Sweet itch signs develop around the horse’s mane and base of the tail. It can also be noticeable in other areas though, including the face. 

Common signs of sweet itch

  • Intense itching and rubbing around the base of the tail and mane 
  • Continuous tail swishing and head shaking to keep the insects away 
  • Hair loss from scratching problem areas 
  • Skin rashes and inflamed, sore and broken skin 
  • Bald patches due to skin damage 

In addition, horse owners may notice that their horse’s behaviour is different to normal. For instance, they may seem lethargic, agitated or restless. They could also be in a lot of discomfort during riding due to the saddle and other riding equipment rubbing on the sensitive skin areas. 

How do you deal with sweet itch?

There are a range of products available to help prevent and treat sweet itch. In order to tackle the pesky scratching sensation your affected horse will be feeling, you can use supplements, rugs, sprays or insect repellents, shampoos and creams. 

What can I give my horse for sweet itch?

Feed supplements 

For treating the horse for sweet itch from the inside out, you will need to consider supplements. Supplements are used as part of the horse’s diet to support its natural defences. 

The NAF Love The Skin He’s In D-Itch Supplement is specifically formulated to help horses fight unpleasant skin irritations. It’s rich in antioxidants to efficiently flush out the build-up of free radicals associated with intense itchiness from biting insects. D-Itch also includes herbs and nutrients to support strong healthy skin from within. 

It’s beneficial that a horse owner begins to use treatments such as supplements as part of their horse’s feed early to avoid sweet itch before the midge season starts. This way it will provide optimum results as the key nutrients will already be in the horse’s system. 

NAF Love The Skin He's In D-Itch Supplement

Skin sprays 

Sprays can be used on affected skin areas where an allergic reaction from sweet itch has occurred and can also be used afterwards to keep any itching at bay or as fly repellents. 

The Cavalor Switch Skin Spray protects your horse from unrelenting itchiness. It contains hydrating and nourishing substances that quickly relieve and soothe irritated and itchy skin on affected horses. The spray then works to repair and hydrate any wounds that are caused by the horse’s scratching. 

To keep the itch under control it’s recommend using it 2 or 3 times per week. 

Cavalor ProScent-0

For immediate relief, the NAF D-Itch Skin Spray is another effective soothing spray to calm the irritation and itching caused by sweet itch. Created using a natural formula, the powerful antioxidant properties support and comfort the reddened areas of hot, irritated skin, relieving the need to scratch and cause further irritation. 

NAF D-Itch Skin Spray

Rugs 

The Horseware Rambo Sweet Itch Hoody helps relieve the symptoms of sweet itch, making your horse more comfortable in its day-to-day life. With a fully integrated neck cover and super-size tail flap, it offers head to tail protection from biting insects. 

Made from tough denier polyester, it is extremely durable yet fully breathable. Used early enough as a precaution, the Rambo Sweet Itch Hoody will help reduce the effects of sweet itch in 85% of cases. 

Horseware Rambo Pony Sweet Itch Hoody

The Bucas Sweet Itch Zebra Full Neck Fly Rug is made from a specially developed light-weight fine mesh fabric that blocks even the smallest of insects. It provides protection of the body and neck of the horse. 

This rug is produced in a zebra print design, which researchers say deters flies as they find the print confusing. 

Bucas Sweet Itch Zebra Full Neck Fly Rug-0

Lotions 

The Carr Day & Martin Killitch soothing lotion is proven to prevent sweet itch and contains active ingredient benzyl benzoate. 

To keep the condition under control in horses which are known to be susceptible, it is recommended to apply the lotion in the early spring, before symptoms appear. 

Carr Day & Martin Killitch -0

This NAF Love The Skin He’s In D-Itch Lotion is another lotion that is essential for any horse affected by midge saliva. The absorbent formula acts as an effective barrier against insects, while its skin-friendly ingredients support damaged and irritated skin, allowing the horse’s skin to be restored to its natural healthy condition. 

NAF D-Itch Ointment 600g

Creams 

The Botanica Anti-Itch Cream is a concentrated blend of herbal ingredients. The water-based moisturising cream is fast-acting and helps to soothe and moisturise. It also has an inbuilt natural insect repellent to deter midges from biting. 

If your horse is already in discomfort, this treatment will give instant relief and stop any itching immediately. 

Shampoos 

The Barrier Anti-Itch Soothing Shampoo is a rich and gentle, antibacterial, 2-in-1 shampoo and conditioner for all year round use. It’s especially important to use in the summer when cleansing, conditioning and anti-itch properties are needed the most. 

Its ingredients include tea tree oil, aloe vera, chamomile and lavender to gently soothe and calm sore, bitten or irritated areas, ensuring the horse’s skin is kept itch free and healthy, whilst cleaning away bacterial and fungal infections with ease.  

Management of sweet itch in horses

There are other preventative measures that you can take to control sweet itch, making your horse’s life much more comfortable and enabling you to get back in the saddle as soon as possible. 

5 additional ways to prevent sweet itch

  1. Poo pick regularly to keep biting midges and flies away as warm environments are a breeding ground for them 
  1. Get your horse stabled from dusk to dawn when midge bites are rife 
  1. Keep your horse away from areas that have standing water, including marshy and boggy fields 
  1. Make your stable fly proof by installing fly sheets and hanging fly screens from stable doors 
  1. Move your horses to a windy field or hillside as midges are poor fliers 

Still unsure on how to treat sweet itch?

You’ll now understand more about the symptoms, treatments and preventative measures to combat sweet itch. 

However, if you require further information or advice, please get in touch. 

 

 

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Posted by: Edgemere
Posted on: 19/04/2022

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