Preventing and Handling Sweet Itch in Horses

Spring is in full swing, and unfortunately, that means sweet itch season is, too. If you notice your horse suddenly rubbing their mane, chest, neck, or face against fences or trees, you may be dealing with this not-so-sweet skin condition.

What Is Sweet Itch?

Sweet itch (sometimes called summer itch or seasonal allergic dermatitis) is a common skin condition in horses. It is caused by an allergy to the saliva of certain biting flies and midges. The bites create an intense itch, and affected horses may spend hours rubbing against trees, fences, stall doors, or any other available surface. This damages the skin and hair, especially of the upper neck, tail dock, and back, not to mention ruined fly sheets and fly masks.

In severe cases, the entire mane and forelock hair may be rubbed out, and the hair on the neck, chest, ears, withers, and tail may become dry, thickened by scarring, and hairless. Problems occur most often in warmer months since the flies that cause it are most active.

How and When Does Sweet Itch Occur?

The biting midges or gnats that cause sweet itch are culicoides, otherwise known as “no-see-ums.” These are tiny, weak flying insects that can’t cover long distances or fly against a breeze, so they tend to feed at night and live near water. Flies typically feed in the early morning and late afternoon and can often be seen on the horse’s neck and belly.

Because sweet itch is an allergy to the insect’s saliva and not the bite itself, not every horse is susceptible. However, there is a genetic predisposition to the allergy, and affected horses have a true hypersensitivity from a young age, worsening every year. It’s similar to how some people react severely to mosquito bites, developing intensely itchy welts, while others have minimal to no reaction.

Controlling Sweet Itch

The best way to control sweet itch is to keep the offending flies away from your horses. Curicyn BodyGuard Fly, Flea, Tick & Insect Repellant is proven to be three times more effective than other fly sprays in keeping pests that cause sweet itch away from horses – without the use of harmful chemicals. Our 100% non-toxic formula works in vapor form to repel insects before they land on or bite your horse. We recommend applying our non-toxic, botanical oil-based spray on the mane, tail, withers, head, midline, and neck.

Along with using Curicyn BodyGuard, stabling your horse overnight in warmer months and making stalls insect-proof can help reduce contact with flies. Stalls can be made insect-proof by attaching screens and insect repellent strips, and BodyGuard can also be sprayed around the stall. If stabling isn’t possible, try moving horses away from mud, wet sand, and ponds in their pastures since the immature stages of the flies live in water.

If you notice your horse rubbing to scratch sweet itch*, be sure to have a supply of Curicyn Original Formula in your barn or tack room. It provides immediate soothing relief from itching and irritation and can help heal affected areas with little to no scarring. If you notice open sores from sweet itch, or if your horse has other wounds attracting flies or midges, we recommend Curicyn Dual Action Gel. Our easy-to-apply gel forms a “second skin” barrier over the wound to allow complete healing while keeping pests away without the need for bandages or coverings. Our non-toxic, antibiotic- and steroid-free formula has no odor and will never sting or burn your animal when applied.

Your horse’s comfort is essential. Irritation from sweet itch can become all-consuming and ultimately affect your horse’s overall health and quality of life. Trust Curicyn products to help you prevent sweet itch before it becomes severe and keep your horse comfortable.

*seek veterinary care in severe cases