How to treat sweet itch

How To Treat Sweet Itch

We try to answer some of your questions about the distressing condition of Sweet Itch, what you can do to prevent it, along with how best to treat it…

How can I control Sweet Itch?

Control relies on you doing one or all of the following before the midges start biting:

* Putting a physical barrier in place to prevent the midges from landing on the horse in the first place or by applying an insect repellent. The barrier can be a rug or some sort of oily film that is applied to the coat.

* Killing the midges after they have landed but before they have had a chance to bite.

* Keeping the horse in when midges are most active.

How can I prevent it?

Experience has shown that the best form of protection against sweet itch is from a dedicated sweet itch rug or a "Boett fly rug" as it is sometimes called. A proper sweet itch rug includes the following key features to create the essential barrier between your horse and the midges:

* elasticated at the top of the neck and top of the legs to prevent midges from getting underneath the rug

* a wide, close-fitting belly flap

* a long tail flap that completely covers the dock region

* a rug of fine mesh fabric to prevent the tiny midges from getting through it. 

Take a look at our range of rugs that offer Sweet Itch Rugs here.


It's now easy to see why an ordinary fly rug or cotton sheet will not prevent sweet itch, isn't it? The other point worthy of note is that the sweet itch rug needs to be worn as much as possible when your horse is out in the field and/or in his stable.

There are some very good potions that can be used to prevent sweet itch if they're used before the midges start to bite, i.e. from early spring onwards. However, some owners would say that these potions are rarely as effective as a sweet itch rug but, as with many such issues, it's down to personal 'trial and error'. Nowadays though, the ingredients of products have to be thoroughly tested to ensure that they can deliver the promises made in their sales pitch, i.e. that they can prevent sweet itch and have had some degree of success. Look out for products that contain either permethrin or cypermethrin as they're particularly good products for prevention.  


How can I treat it? 

There are a huge number of proprietary anti-sweet itch skin lotions and creams available. Most are combinations of repellents and insecticides. They must be applied generously (and as close as possible to the roots of the mane and the tail or dock, extending about a foot [30cm] either side of the spine) and at least daily. The degree of success of these shows that the earlier in the season they're applied, the more successful they are. Products such as the Carr & Day & Martin Killitch Sweet Itch Lotion - see below- contain Benzyl Benzoate. This is an effective topical treatment.  

Carr & Day & Martin Killitch Sweet Itch LotionInsecticides are much more effective if the mane is hogged and the dock is trimmed or pulled short but they must never be applied to inflamed skin. In general, simple fly repellents are useless as they are far too short-acting.

Shampoos and lotions with natural ingredients, such as lavender, chamomile or tea-tree oil can help to sooth angry sores. Look for products that specifically include a reference to "biting flies" as this is what a midge is classed as. Also look for products that have the word "Itch" in their title as this is, of course, the main symptom of sweet itch that the potion must address. 

                       NAF Love The Skin He's In D-Itch Ointment          

If symptoms persist, are particularly bad, or where the owner is not able or willing to use the prevention methods described above, drugs from a vet may be the only option. This is principally using cortisone and more recently antihistamines, but obviously both of these can prove costly and are only available from a vet. 


Some horse owners have been successful with feeding supplements for sweet itch. It’s commonly accepted that midges, and flies for that matter, don’t seem to like horses that exude the smell of garlic through their coat. 

Brewer's yeast contains a range of B vitamins and amino acids that are said to help reduce the horse's allergic response to the biting Culicoides midge. 

Supposedly, midges also dislike cider vinegar, mint, apples, apple juice, carrot, and honey!  Bear in mind that, as with all supplements, there is a ‘loading’ period which means that you really need to start feeding any supplement before the midge season starts in about April.

Do bear in mind though, no empirical research has been conducted as to the effectiveness of supplements to treat sweet itch.

In Summary

Sadly, there isn’t actually a cure for sweet itch. As always, ‘prevention is better than cure’, and the best way to prevent it is to take action before the condition takes hold. Read our detailed article that explains in detail exactly what Sweet Itch is.  

Do you have any experience or tips? Share them!

If you have a horse who's struggling with this condition or have some helpful tips, do share them below. You never know, you may just help out a fellow rider...

Shop Our Sweet Itch Collection


Kim Horton

Co-Founder of EQUUS and a keen equestrian, when Kim's not at her desk she's with her horse, Waldo.


  • Deborah donnell posted on June 16 2017 at 09:06 AM

    I have had my horse for 21 years and sadly he has suffered with sweet itch all this time. I gave tried all the lotions dprays and evrn injections but sadly nothing worked i even tried supplements. I was told by a friend a few ywars ago about a product she was advised to try which has neem oil present in it. Well i can honestly say for my big lad, this is his 6 year spending summer out in field with all his friends in the fresh air. I applied the cream on his tail and slso either side of base of his mane and last year i still had a full mane snd tail, i also use a shampoo from same company whivh has neem oil in it as well and it takes all the oily buildup from the cream and softens the skin and then i apply the cream on again after i have areas dry. This product i find also gelps hair growth on cuts . Thanks

  • Susie Ashton-King posted on June 17 2017 at 01:06 PM

    My connemara Mole suffers with switch and after spending £££ on products I now feed him garlic granuals and dodson and horrel itch-free and just a normal fly rug. This year I haven’t had to hog his mane and he has a full tail and no sores! I had to stop using special sweet itch rugs as I found he would just rip them to shreds

  • Rachel posted on July 12 2021 at 09:07 AM

    My mare suffers with really bad sweetitch I find the shires sweetitch rug is the only rug that lasts, she rips any others scratching she stays in at night when midges are worse, I tried every product on market and find only thing that works for her is 100% pure neem oil obviously I only use it under rug as it’s a oil product that can cause sunburn but it’s also brilliant for mud fever during wet season. Only time she’s without her sweetitch rug is during under saddle work


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