Equestrian Needs Ltd


There is no cure for sweet itch however there are a range of products available to help to reduce or alleviate the symptoms. It is difficult to assess the success of these treatments. Every horse responds differently and what suit's a friend's horse may not suit yours.

The number of midges is critical and what may appear to be improvement or deterioration may only be a reflection of the number of attacking midges. As this can change with the weather it is important to take the necessary steps to try to make you horse as comfortable as possible.


  • Midges favour wet warm conditions but can only fly a short distance, so avoid fields with damp and boggy ground or those close to water.
  • Choose high ground with a good breeze, midges prefer shelter and do not fly in strong winds.
  • Stable during dusk and dawn as this is the time when midges tend to be most active as they do not fly in clear sunshine. Stabling however, may not be suitable for severe sufferers who will use the stable to scratch uncontrollably removing hair and skin in the process.


  • Use insect repellant, barrier creams or specialist rugs.

Mitigate the effect

  • Washing your horse regularly using a soothing shampoo can help to ease itching by keeping the skin clean and removing the build up of products and flaky skin.
  • Avoid pulling manes and tails during the summer as the skin will already be sensitive and this can only irritate.
  • Use corticosteroids, antihistamines or soothing lotions.


  • If you are going to choose a rug, ensure it has been designed for sweet itch. A standard fly rug will not protect against midge bite.
  • Sweet itch rugs can be very effective but consider the environment and the likelihood of the rug being ripped to shreds. You may need to deploy electric fencing to prevent rubbing on hedges and boundaries.
  • Choose your rug carefully and ensure it is a good fit to prevent rubbing as it will need to be worn 24 hours a day.
  • Rugs should be worn before the season commences, March to October.
  • Wash bug rugs regularly as they can quickly accumulate a layer of grease from the products and this can increase itching. Fly masks can help to prevent biting around the ears, face and forelock but should be washed regularly as they meshed can become dirty hampering visibility.

Fly Sprays and Creams

  • Apply a fly spray. Those containing DEET or pyrethrins are considered more effective, however they are not long lasting and some horses can be sensitive to the sprays.
  • Oil based products can act as a barrier and there are a variety of solutions available.
  • Grease based applications can also be applied but can be messy.
  • Creams can help to relieve the symptoms and ease the discomfort but will not prevent further midge attacks.
  • Most solutions should be applied before the season starts for maximum protection and will need re-applied regularly following exercise or after rain.


  • There are various anti-itch supplements available which can support the horses' health and boost the immune system.
  • There is conflicting advice about garlic, some believe it helps and others believe it encourages the problem.

Other Treatments

  • Steroids and antihistamines are available but do have side effects so discuss the options with your vet.
  • Immunotherapy which provides treatment of a disease by inducing, enhancing, or suppressing an immune response. Injections and capsules are available but can be expensive.

Buying a horse with Sweet Itch

In the UK Vets consider sweet itch to be reportable and therefore must be disclosed before a sale. In terms of vetting is may be considered as seriously as unsoundness and can ultimately affect the value of any sufferer. Generally it won’t affect the performance of a horse or pony but the loss of hair can impede success in some competitions. In addition some horses may become lethargic or agitated making riding more difficult.

Insuring a horse with Sweet Itch

As a reportable condition, sweet itch has insurance implications as the majority of insurance companies will not insure a horse for pre-existing conditions. Therefore you should ensure that you have considered the extra costs involved in caring for a horse with sweet itch. If the condition develops post purchase then it will likely be among the conditions covered under your policy.

Sweet Itch and equine welfare

With the large volume of horses and ponies suffering with Sweet Itch it is inevitable that a number will not be given the care and attention required and the equine welfare charities are often faced with sufferers whose condition is such that it causes a serious welfare issue. If you are struggling to care for a horse or pony with the condition, then please seek help. If you are concerned about the welfare of any equine, please click here for more information.

Where to find help

New products continue to launch onto the market but as owners of horses and ponies with Sweet Itch will know, finding the right combination to successfully manage the condition each year can be a real challenge.

Last Updated: May 2014