Horse wearing a rug


Proteins within the saliva of midges cause a localised allergic reaction within the skin, which is colloquially called ‘Sweet Itch’. It is characterised by persistent itching. Some horses may become irritable, restless and in extreme cases even lose weight. Clinical signs are seen from spring to autumn and are worst around dawn and dusk – when midges are most active.

Horses will scratch affected areas resulting in loss of hair over affected areas, thickening of the skin and breaks in the skin, which can become infected. Hair is frequently lost from the mane and the base of the tail.

chestnut horse looking into camera

As with all diseases, prevention is far better than cure and this is particularly true of Sweet Itch, as treatment is often of limited value or comes with the risk of side-effects. Where disease cannot be prevented then there are numerous treatment options which are variably effective. Treatment options can include steroids, rugs, topical anti-itch shampoos that contain oatmeal, or anti-histamines. Application of ice or cold water may temporarily relieve itching. Plus de-sensitisation with injections of midge extracts may also be effective.

Your veterinary surgeon can advise you on the most appropriate treatment for your horse.

If you have any queries please do not hesitate to contact us on 01736 362215.