5 steps to prevent sweet itch

5 steps to prevent sweet itch

Sweet itch can be a miserable time for your horse. They rub away patches of hair, leaving the skin raw and exposed. Take action to prevent this intense itch.

First off, what is Sweet Itch?

The official description is equine insect hypersensitivity. Basically, an often severe allergic reaction to insect bites, primarily midges, gnats or no see-umms.

How do I know my horse has Sweet Itch?

Classically noticed by the owner as an irritable, intense itchy horse, the reaction can occur anywhere on the horse’s body. However, there are some key areas these pests tend to bite: underside of the belly, under the mane or around the crest of the neck, and the dock of the tail.

Affected horses develop small pimplelike bumps on the skin, causing the hair on the top of the tail to stand up.

If left untreated and it becomes a rather serious issue, your horse might begin to rub the itchy spots bare! Those areas can become scabby and ulcerated too. It’s really awful.

What time of year does it strike?

The reaction will worsen when the insects which bite and cause the hypersensitivity are at their peak. The worst time of year is April to September, often the warmer part of the year in most areas.

Now the time of day also plays an important role. These insects are most active and at the highest in numbers at dawn and dusk.


Unfortunately, no.

Research is always expanding and looking to develop a reliable immunotherapy treatment. As of now, your veterinarian might recommend antihistamines or corticosteroids to help relieve the itchy madness.

Try any of the over-the-counter products to help with itching and bare/raw spots. You want to prevent any infection from occurring! A thick, oily or sticky ointment (the messy ones) are best to keep the insects from landing on the horse’s skin.

Also, there are supplements you can feed, which are formulated to reduce inflammation. Ask your veterinarian for suggestions 🙂

Prevention is your best bet!

Here are steps you can take:

  1. Bring your horse inside a stall or barn/shelter when the insects are most active (dawn and dusk).
  2. Add airflow from a fan to provide a continuous breeze over the stalled horse. These insects are poor fliers so a gentle breeze will keep them from landing on and biting your horse.
  3. Install fine-mesh screens over and barn windows, doors and other large openings. Any added protection to minimize the number of insects reaching your horse the better.
  4. Cover the horse! The best way is to buy a lightweight fly sheet and keep this on the horse all the time during the biting season. Many brands make them, and they are made of a fine mesh to keep the bugs out. I recommend a sheet with added neck cover, belly wrap, and a tailpiece.
  5. Restrict your horse’s access to marshy, damp areas. The insects breed in marshy, shady areas where vegetation is rotting. If possible, also eliminate any standing water around and in the barn. This includes wash wracks, gutters, ditches, unused water buckets and leaking hoses that create puddles.

Next Steps…

My number 1 recommendation is to catch the Sweet itch early! Like with any irritant your horse experiences, it’s best to be on top of the issues ASAP to minimize the effect.

Each spring, I dig up and take inventory of all my fly sheets. Double checking fitment on each of my horses and mend any tears.

As for the barn and property, I make sure to fill any low spots with gravel or chips, fix leaking faucets and clean up the leaves to minimize decay. Another important factor is your manure pile. It’s ideal to have this as far away from your horses as possible and removed frequently.

Alright, that’s it for now! Hope this helps with the itchy attack on your poor horses.

Happy Horsey-Days!

xo Erica