What Is Sweet Itch?

What is Sweet Itch?

Sweet itch or Summer Seasonal Recurrent Dermatitis (SSRD) can affect all breeds and types of horses, ponies and donkeys. It is caused initially by an allergic reaction to midge bites therefore, horses prone to sweet itch can be most commonly affected from March all the way through to November!

Sweet itch is the most common allergic skin disease in the UK and affects around five per cent of our horse population. 

What are the symptoms of Sweet Itch?

Sweet Itch can vary in severity from the horse occasionally scratching his tail on a tree, stable door, posts etc. to the very worst cases who will scratch and scratch, causing self-trauma. Symptoms include:

  • Itching will often be focused on the neck, mane and tail, however worst affected horses may end up rubbing and biting at their skin wherever they can reach.
  • In affected areas skin will appear lumpy or scaly and usually inflamed or hot to the touch, but you may also just notice areas where the hair appears ruffled and rubbed.
  • Self-trauma from scratching may cause balding, inflamed skin, bleeding or weeping sores and thickening of the skin.
  • Skin may also look scurfy in patches, although it is a symptom which could indicate a different condition.
  • Some horses can become restless, impatient, lack concentration and in the very worst cases may even start to lose weight as a result of the condition.
  • A horse may also shake its head or become restless if flying insects are close by.

How can you prevent and control Sweet Itch? 

Unfortunately, there is no cure for the disease and once a horse develops sweet itch it recurs every year. Prevention and control consist of controlling the horse’s environment and could include:

  • Trying to avoid marshy, boggy fields as midges thrive in them. 
  • They also thrive in warm and moist conditions such as on droppings so regularly poo picking may help to reduce midges. 
  • Water troughs should be cleaned regularly to prevent flies from breeding there.
  • Sweet itch rugs which cover all the areas of the horse susceptible to bites can provide protection.
  • Stabling horses at night can help prevent horses being bitten. Although, stabling can do more harm than good due to the hard surfaces the horse can rub on.

How can you help ease the itching?

Soothing lotions such at our Sooth Itch Cream will relieve the itching and reduce inflammation but they will not deter further midge attacks.

Insect repellents may help to deter midges from biting. Insect repellents should be applied well before signs develop and should not be applied to inflamed or broken skin. All insect repellents and insecticides should be applied with care. Our Fly Repel spray and gel provides relief from mosquito, midge and other biting insects for up to 8 hours. 

Research also suggests that sweet itch in horses can be supported by feeding high levels of omega-3 fatty acids which can reduce the reaction to the midges. 

EA Supreme Omega Oil was born out of the need to provide a high-quality ratio of essential fatty acids rich in omega 3, a nutrient often lacking in the horse’s diet due to over usage of cereals and dried forages. Of significance, omega 3 fatty acids are known to support a number of health and performance enhancing processes in the body. Some of the more notable areas of health include improving mobility and enhancing a shiny coat. Flax oil provides 4 x as much omega 3 (in the form of alpha linolenic acid) as omega 6 and this makes it one of the richest sources available. Furthermore, flax oil is believed to be one of the most palatable sources of omega 3 available.