Not so Sweet-Itch: Advice on how to manage and treat Sweet Itch

 - 6 min read

From our little Shetlands to our gentle giants we all want to know one thing. What really works for sweet itch? At the end of the day there is no set answer. So what tricks and treatments work best?

Here are some top tips I have found when treating and dealing with sweet itch during those hot summer months. But first…

What is Sweet Itch?

Sweet itch is a skin allergy caused by flies and midges in certain equines. The allergic reaction specifically occurs under the skin as the horse’s immune system is trying to fight against the midge’s saliva. This reaction causes the itching and irritation. A few common signs to look out for are:

Scratching – I know scratching it very common in horses, well any animal to be honest, but this is a different style of scratching. It is constant, they will be trying to scratch their tail/bum and their neck/mane area on anything they can. They will start to rub it till it's raw and inflamed, it’s highly likely that there will be hair loss.

Discomfort in the field – a constant rolling trying to scratch and itch their head/ears/mane with their hind hoof. Not looking very settled in the field and looking very lethargic with not much get up and go in them.

Change in behaviour – I always find that my sweet itch pony is very grumpy the more the midges come out during the season. Excessive grooming between horses/field companions. Lots of head shaking and tail swishing to get insects away and kicking of the belly with their back legs to get insects out from underneath them.

Treatments

Sweet itch rugs

It’s all well and good buying a fly rug but what you really need is a sweet itch rug. The reason is fly rugs aren’t great for sweet itch is because most are made from mesh. Mesh allows the flies and midges to get in and bite at the horses which is what causes the reaction. Some things you want to look out for when buying a sweet itch rug are:

Always make sure that it covers as much as possible. The main places a horse suffers from sweet itch is up their neck and bum/tail area. So, when looking for a sweet itch rug you want one that covers up to their ears/pole and isn’t too short on the bum as to expose it. I would recommend this sweet itch rug: 

Shires Highlander Plus Sweet-itch Combo Rug

It covers all needed areas, is light and airy which is great for a sweet itch horse as sweating makes the skin itch more. It has a belly fasten so you haven’t got to worry about the velcro coming off and exposing the stomach like some sweet itch rugs do when our equines put on a little weight.

Getting a ride on fly rug is also great to keep the flies off whilst being ridden too!

Supplements

Ensuring your horse is fighting sweet itch from the inside out is another good thing! Brewers yeast, while not commonly known for its sweet itch powers, is a good little feeder as it is linked in with soothing skin discomfort.

Omega Brewers Yeast 1kg

Another good feeder is garlic. Garlic helps within the horse by stimulating the immune system, plus the smell is enough to keep flies away on its own! My personal favourite to use is the granules, not for any other reason than the fact of its less messy than the powder when using the scoops. No one wants to go into work filled with non-horse people with a “questionable" horse smell.

NAF Garlic Granules

Fly repellent

I have moved yards a few times with my horses and always found that different fly sprays work better in a different environment. My all-time favourite which I find helps keep them off for longer is the NAF Off Deet. A bonus with this product is if your horse doesn’t like sprays, they also do a gel as well! The gel is great to use on ears, the side of the face as well as inside the back legs. It is a great spray but to give it that little extra kick I like to put in a cap full of citronella (and a cap full of "stop the itch" for my sweet itch pony) to give it that extra power, not that it needs it.

NAF Off Deet Power Gel

NAF Off Deet Power

Regular Bathing

Regular bathing is key. Putting so many different products on them to stop the itch is great but after a while, you will find you get an oily/greasy film around the areas where you have applied the products. Once a week/once every 2 weeks give them a gentle bath. It will help stop that oily film forming on the horse's coat. After a bath, I like to put a soothing gel on so as they are drying the itch doesn't come back as soon and aloe vera is great for that. If there are no sores or they are doing quite well itching wise then I like to put on just a regular soothing summer cream just to keep the flies off. 

Barrier Aloe Vera Soothing Gel

During the days you don’t have time to give your horse a bath after riding or on a hot sweaty day I swear by this. This is the best thing I've ever come across and it really does work. To try it I put it on myself and instantly it cooled me right down and when putting it on my horse I almost heard him sigh with relief with him cooling down. It's quick and simple, all you need is a bucket of water and a sponge and just give them a quick wipe down, it makes all the difference

NAF Cooling Wash

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Got any questions or just need some horsey advice? Comment down below 👇 or send us an email we’d be happy to help with your Sweet itch problems.