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5 Tips on Management & Prevention by Global Herbs

Sweet Itch, Queensland Itch, or Summer Dermatitis is an allergy in horses and ponies to midge bites the primary symptom of which is severe itching. 

Sweet Itch - Tail (Solva) The mane and top of the tail are usually affected most though other areas such as the ears, neck and forehead may suffer too.

Sweet Itch - Neck (Solva)

The severity of the itch compels the horse to scratch itself wherever and however it can, by rolling on the ground, rubbing against its stable and fences, biting and chewing the affected area, and seeking excessive grooming from other horses.

Understandably an itchy horse is a stressed horse. It behaves differently to a normal horse, often with mood swings, getting upset and impatient – swishing its tail aggressively is one sign – one minute and then becoming lifeless and quiescent the next.

Severe horse itch gives rise to hair loss, skin problems, weeping sores and sometimes secondary infections. The response to midge bites varies with each horse.

There is at present no known fully effective treatment for Sweet Itch once lesions have occurred. Prevention and management are the top priorities – keeping Culicoides midges away from your horse; and mitigating the effects of midge bites. Techniques are varied.

Here are our tips:-

1. Control the Stable Environment

Midges are at their worst at dawn and dusk when they are feeding. Stable your horse at this time, close doors and windows – some people erect midge screens, install a strong ceiling fan or spray around a natural insect repellent e.g. one based on lavender, eucalyptus, garlic and tea tree which discourages Sweet Itch midges from entering. Clear away rotting piles of vegetation, straw, hay, leaves and ensure there are no pools of standing water in the yard or paddock.

2. Avoid Midgy Habitats.

Midges love humid environments, wet pasture, hedgerows, woods and boggy, clay ground. Avoid them; and move your horse if possible to an open, dry limestone or chalk hillside or coastal location with wind coming off the sea. Even a move of 400 - 800 yards may help as Sweet Itch midges only fly a short distance.

3. Make Your Horse an Unpleasant Feeding Ground for Midges.

Midges don’t seem to like horses which have a lot of garlic or cider vinegar in their diet. They also really hate some dietary supplements based on cedar and other plant extracts which exude through the horse’s skin. Not all horses take to these supplements or dietary in-feed fly repellents immediately and need persuading with small amounts to begin with. 

Some owners have used successfully mint, apples, apple juice, carrots, honey and other sweet natural ingredients as camouflage. Best to start feeding your horse which is sensitive to Sweet Itch an in-feed fly repellent before the midge season starts in circa April. 

Always consult your veterinary herbalist if in doubt what supplement to use for Sweet Itch. What works for one horse may not work for another.

4. Protect Your Horse with a Sweet Itch Rug.

De Meulenkamp Sweet Itch Rug These rugs are made specially to prevent access to midges which are tiny. Some horse fly sheets made of soft mesh allow midges access whilst keeping out larger flies. 

A true Sweet Itch Rug doesn’t allow midges access in gaps around the legs, tail or belly. It is light weight, breathable and shower proof and may be worn 24/7.

 They are also cool and comfortable to wear. Your horse may also benefit from a face mask or hood.

5. Insect Repellents and Fly Sprays.

If your horse or pony won’t eat a dietary fly repellent, or it isn’t sufficiently effective, another option is to try home-made fly sprays made from essential oils. Strong chemicals are best avoided as horses can ingest toxic substances from their mutual grooming. Some horses may also not react well to certain natural substances like citronella. 

DEET in low concentrations is also short acting. See our other page for advice on ameliorating itching and keeping your horse fly free and comfortable. If your horse is covered by a Sweet Itch Rug there may still be areas which need protection. Skin So Soft by Avon is popular with some owners for dealing with these parts but dilute and test on a small area first as a precaution. For very severe cases of Sweet Itch vets may prescribe steroids to sooth itchy skin. Homeopathy also has its adherents.


More help with horse itch available at www.sweet-itch.org

Images courtesy of Solva Sweet Itch Solutions.

Thanx for your tips found them helpful, sweet itch is a problem for our Cob, and scratching till he bleeds ....using "Scratch n All" "which helps it is a safer way, last year he almost lost his eye with injury from scratching on a tree. thank you.


Other Horse related pages on Hints and Things

Horse Flies and Biting Insects

Herbs for Horses

Herbal World of the Horse

Lameness in Horses

Horse Colic

Mud Fever

Horse Breed/Horse Mating

Skin Condition in Horses

Stress in Horses





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