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.
Insecticides 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.
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.
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...