Struggling with Sweet Itch? Here’s What to Do.
While summer weather brings with it long beach rides, evening hacks through the woods and happy rug-free horses, it also brings sweet itch – every horse owner’s worst nightmare. Sweet itch is not only seriously irritating and upsetting for your horse, it’s also terrible for the owners who, more often than not, are at a loss at how to manage it.
What is Sweet Itch?
Sweet itch is one of the most common causes of itchiness in horses. It develops from an allergy to mosquitoes and midges, and it affects around 1 in every 5 horses. The condition is more severe in some horses than others and can affect different areas of the horse. Some horses will scratch at their mane and tail, while others will scratch themselves to the point of sores or infection.
Although the condition isn’t life threatening, it can be seriously nasty, and good treatment is paramount for the welfare of your horse.
What are the Symptoms?
Symptoms of sweet itch in horses will vary, but it usually involves itching the neck, mane and tail. The worst affected areas will be lumpy and scaly, although if your horse is really suffering there will be bleeding and thickening of the skin. Horses may be stressed and restless – imagine never being able to scratch an itch!
Ways to Prevent Sweet Itch
While sweet itch in horses can be difficult to manage, there are ways to keep your horse happy and itch-free during the summer months. Let’s take at the best ways to prevent sweet itch, as well as what you can do when it happens.
The trick with sweet itch is to take steps to prevent it before you notice a reaction. If you know your horse struggles with the midges, take steps before they strike – usually around March time.
Bring your Horse in at Dawn and Dusk
Peak biting hours are dusk and dawn, so bring your horse into his stable at this time. This will help him to avoid the nasty midges and flies, hopefully stopping him from getting bitten in the first place. If you can’t bring your horse into their stable, a mobile field shelter will give them some shelter, as well as helping them stay cool when it gets hotter.
Call your Vet
While sweet itch is very common, there’s always a chance that your horse is struggling with something more severe. Your horse could have ringworm, a bacterial infection or be allergic to something other than midges. It’s always best to get your horse checked over by a vet just to be sure.
Invest in a Good Fly Repellent
A good fly repellent can help keep midges and flies away. While every man and his dog will have their own opinion on what’s the best fly repellent, you might need to try a few before you find the best one for your horse.
Fly repellent is available as a spray, cream or gel and horses will respond differently to each. Remember to spray every few hours as these do wear off, and be especially thorough if you are going for a hack in woodland areas or near water.
Use a Sweet Itch Fly Sheet
Managing sweet itch is far easier with a sweet itch fly sheet. These cover your horse head to toe and will help stop the midges and mosquitoes to getting to him – plus they have the added benefit of keeping your horse clean even in summer! These fly rugs can be expensive, but they’re well worth the investment and you’ll save on expensive sweet itch treatments.
Install a Ceiling Fan & Fly Screen
Unfortunately, flies and midges can still get into your horse’s stable. Luckily there is a very effective, albeit expensive solution. Install a ceiling fan and fly screen. A fly screen is a low cost way to keep flies out the stable, while a ceiling fan is seriously effective – as midges can’t fly if the wind speed is over 5mph.
How to Treat Sweet Itch
So you’ve done all you can to prevent it, but you just can’t stop your horse itching! There is a range of itchy horse remedies on the market, you just have to find the best one for your horse. While prevention is the best cure, sweet itch can be treated. Keep all irritated areas clean and dry, applying a healing agent like Sudocrem if the skin is sore and lumpy. There’s also a range of cooling creams on the market designed to stop the itching, as well as helping the skin to heal.
If you are worried about infections, or the condition becomes too much to manage, don’t hesitate to get in touch with your vet. Managing sweet itch isn’t impossible, but take steps to prevent the midges from biting your horse in the first place, and both you and your horse should be able to enjoy the summer itch-free!