Equine Sweet Itch - What is it?

culicoides the enemy

Sweet itch is caused by an allergic reaction to the protein in the saliva of biting insects. This causes the immune system to attack its own cells and leads to the extreme reaction. In the UK insects that commonly cause sweet itch are the midge (Culicoides) and the black fly (Simulium).
People commonly mistake general itching and fly sensitivity for Sweet Itch. Sadly, Sweet itch is way more severe and requires more comprehensive attention.
Sweet Itch can cause complete misery to all breeds of horse, pony, Mule or Donkey.

Symptoms of Sweet Itch
Symptoms of Sweet Itch can range from mild to severe but would normally start with small itching patches which become hot and inflamed.
  • Mild to severe itching and rubbing, usually along the mane, back, belly and tail
  • Loss of tail and mane hair due to itching
  • Bald patches, which can look ugly and grey due to permanent hair loss and skin damage
  • Areas of sore, open, broken skin, which tend to bleed
  • In many cases, itching along the legs and in the Udder and Sheath area
  • Moodiness and sometime depression due to the misery of constant itching and irritability.
Different types of midges will attack different parts of the body, resulting in different areas of skin being affected, but typically sweet itch initially affects the mane and base of the tail.

sweet itch sweet itch horse


Vets and owners alike will be able to detect Sweet Itch by simply visualizing the severity of damage to the skin and condition of the animal afflicted – along with the severity of the itching. At present there is no official veterinary diagnosis testing for Sweet Itch.


  • Good insect control is essential to prevent the midges biting. Regular application of insect repellents, use of fly sheets or rugs and stabling during times of high midge activity (dawn and dusk).
  • Keep your horse’s skin covered using an ear to tail rug and a hood designed to help prevent the condition, making sure the mesh holes are sufficiently small to prevent midges getting through the gaps.
  • It is a good idea to move affected horses to open, more exposed fields with a good breeze (midges are weak fliers and get blown away with a wind more than 4mph!) and keep affected horses and ponies well away from woodland and water – especially standing water, such as ponds.
  • Small areas of water can be midge breeding areas, such as water troughs, so they need to be cleaned often.
  • Stable affected horses and ponies from about 4pm to 8am (i.e., dusk to dawn) when midges are at their worst. Using insect-proof mesh on the windows and door of stables may help.
  • Use strong electric fans in stables, where safe to do so, as midges cannot fly against a strong air current.
  • Carry out regular application of fly spray or anti itch creams. Many horses or ponies with this condition will also need treatment to control the itch and sometimes to resolve secondary skin infections. Often topical treatment is effective, such as the right soothing shampoo (and has fewer potential side effects) but sometimes tablets and/or injections are needed (which should be avoided unless you have exhausted all other routes).
  • There is limited research available but evidence from owners of horses suffering from sweet itch recommend feed supplements designed to support skin health.

    sweet itch coverage

Snuggy Hoods – helping to combat the symptoms and cause of Sweet Itch.

At Snuggy Hoods we believe that we not only need to protect the animal from being able to damage their skin from scratching, we also believe that the most important function of a rug/hood is to stop the bite/itch cycle… Preventing the bite and therefore stopping the itch.

Our most comprehensive Sweet Itch protection is our Sweet Itch hood and rug combination. A “2 x piece set” which covers the horse from noseband to end of dock – including the belly, you can also purchase extras such as Sheath/Udder Cover and front leg covers.

If, looking at the information here regarding symptoms, you feel that your horse/pony/Donkey is sensitive rather than a “full blown” sweet itch sufferer, we also offer a range of comprehensive rugs and hoods which offer second to none fly protection but with more areas left uncovered.

We also offer a range of tried and tested fly repellents; anti-itch supplements and comprehensive summer freedom fly creams.

Final Word.

Trying and testing is the key. What works for one animal may not work for another. Be fussy with any product you are buying and testing. Make sure you are happy with the fit. Make sure you are happy that it suits you and your horse. Read all the testimonials and product advice carefully before purchasing and always request more info if needed.

Snuggy Hoods = Happy Horses