Sweet Itch

What is Sweet Itch?

Sweet itch, also known as pruritus, is an allergy to the saliva produced by midges and flys which causes the horse to itch, sometimes to the point of bleeding. This allergy is predominantly seen in the summer months when the midges are more active and tends to be seen on the tops of the horse’s tail and along the mane, although in some more severe cases it can be seen on the horses face and body.

The itching is followed by an autoimmune over-reaction as the immune system tried to protect the body from further damage. This causes the skin on the effected are to become thicker and dry.


·         Mild to severe itching and rubbing, usually along the mane, back and         tail

·         Loss of tail and mane hair

·         Bald patches,

·         Areas of sore, open, broken skin,

·         In some cases, itching along the legs and under the belly


There is no actual cure for sweet itch but there are many different prevention measures that can be taken.

1.    Rugs. There are rugs available to buy specifically designed for horses that suffer with sweet itch. One example is the Premier Equine Sweet Itch Buster rug. This prevents the midges from biting the horse, therefore preventing the saliva from the midges causing the allergic reaction in the first place. These types of rugs are a good way to help your horse if they suffer from sweet itch. The only problem is that these cannot be used when riding so there is still potential for the horse to be bitten and the reaction to start.

2.    Steroids are often used to stop the over reaction of the immune system, this can lead to other problems such as laminitus so this option must be used carefully!
Antihistamines are a better alternative to steroids but can cause drowsiness so should still be used with caution. There are currently no antihistamines specifically licensed for use in the horse, so many of those used by vets are human drugs.

3.    Soothing shampoos, such as
aloe vera shampoos, are good to help soothe the skin and keep the area clean. This should help to soften the skin, reduce chances of infection and also reduce the itching.

4.   There are many
fly sprays on the market which can be applied to your horse, these tend to only work for a few hours though so may be worth considering for riding and combining with a fly rug for turn out/stabling.

5.  Midges tend to be found near areas of standing water, ensuring water troughs are kept clean can help to reduce the amount of midges that are around your horse.

6.  Try using a supplement in your horses feed to help with the reactions, many people use brewers yeast to help support the immune system but another product that will help support the immune system is
EquiFeast’s Fight Back.

For more information about allergies and how to support the immune system please see the Allergies page on this site.