How to treat Sweet Itch in your Horse/Pony

How do I treat my horse’s sweet itch?

If you notice your horse urgently rubbing and scratching itself on any and every available fence post, patch of gravel or nearby human, you may be dealing with a case of sweet itch. Sweet itch (also known as Summer Seasonal Recurrent Dermatitis or SSRD) most commonly affects the mane and tail areas, but it is also frequently found along the centerline of the stomach, and on the withers, neck and ears. Horses suffering from sweet itch may rub these areas until they lose all their hair and become raw, infected and covered in scabs. Unfortunately, when this happens you’re not only dealing with the sweet itch itself, but also the potential for a secondary infection caused by trauma to the skin from severe rubbing and itching.

What causes sweet itch?

Biting insects including lice, midges, black flies and horse flies are the usual suspects implicated in a case of sweet itch. Most horses don’t react much to a typical bug bite, but for horses with sweet itch, the bite of common Culicoides midges, also known as sand flies or no see’ms causes an allergic response similar to hay fever in humans. This hypersensitivity reaction to allergens in the midge saliva then results in intense itching, which can lead to severe distress as horses try to alleviate the irritation by rubbing and biting at the affected areas. Summer weather that that alternates between rain and sun can set the stage for an explosion of insect populations—and a corresponding increase in your horse’s misery if he/she is affected by sweet itch. It’s also worth noting that some breeds like Welsh ponies, Icelandic horses, and Shires appear more pre-disposed to sweet itch infection than others, which suggests that the condition is likely hereditary. Thankfully, sweet itch caused by midges typically appears in spring and settles down or virtually disappears during the winter months.

Can Banixx help with sweet itch?

Yes! Banixx gives instant relief to uncomfortable itching in the form of a non-specific cooling effect. More importantly, Banixx will assist in “repair” of damaged tissue and help fight any infection that may be present in the area. For severe cases of sweet itch, you may also need to consult your veterinarian for short term medication and/or consider keeping your horse in the stall during peak biting times.

This story from Jane and her horse Honeymoon

Sweet Itch in Horses - Photo courtesy of Prof. Derek Knottenbelt

In the summer, biting insects attack my horse’s center-line (along his tummy) and drive him crazy. He gets down on the ground like a dog and vigorously rubs his belly to try to get some relief, until his belly is raw. Of course, that only makes matters worse! Now every insect within flying distance is attracted to his raw belly. He was miserable. I thought, why not Banixx? What do i have to lose? So I sprayed his belly, patting the spray into his center-line until it was saturated (admittedly, not an easy thing to do), but, he got instant relief. In time, the scabs dropped off and he was again my happy, ornery thoroughbred!

Signs of sweet itch in horses

  • Mild to severe itching and rubbing, usually along the mane, back and tail
  • Loss of tail and mane hair
  • Bald patches, which can look ugly and grey due to permanent hair loss and skin damage
  • Areas of sore, open, broken skin, which tend to bleed
  • In some cases, itching along the legs and under the belly

How to treat and prevent sweet itch in horses

  • A good midge repellent is essential — your vet will be able to guide you on this
  • Many horses can be helped by moving them to a drier, hilltop field where bugs may be less intense
  • Small midge breeding areas, such as water troughs, need to be cleaned often
  • Stable your horse from about 4pm to 8am when midges are at their worst. Using insect-proof mesh on the windows and door of stables may help
  • Keep your horse’s skin covered using an outdoor fly sheet designed to help prevent the condition

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