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What is sweet itch?

The Natural Way - specialized in itching and skin complaints and the natural treatment of horses with sweet itch, mud fever and CPL. 

Your horse is itchy and scratches... Unfortunately, a recognizable image for many owners.

In this article I discuss what exactly sweet itch is, how you recognize it and, above all, how you can treat it naturally.

Horse with summer eczema itching, mane and tail chafing, Summer eczema lotion The Natural Way Laura Cleirens, 100% natural product solution for horses with summer eczema itching tail and mane eczema SME

Horse with sweet itch © Laura Cleirens


  • What is sweet itch?
  • How does this allergy arise?
  • How do you ensure good management?
  • How is sweet itch diagnosed?
  • How can you treat sweet itch naturally?
    • Zomereczeem lotion - The Natural Way
    • Healthy food
    • Spices
    • Eczema blanket
    • Housing and management

What is sweet itch?

Sweet itch is a condition associated with mild to very severe itching in which the tail, mane and skin become irritated and/or damaged because horses rub themselves in an attempt to relieve the itching.

These complaints are caused by a hypersensitive, allergic reaction to the saliva of the female Culicoides mosquito (midges), which needs blood to lay its eggs and reproduce. The midge's saliva contains proteins to which a horse can react allergically.

How does this allergy arise?

The itching only occurs when the immune system reacts to substances that try to enter the body. We call these substances allergens, and in the case of horses with sweet itch, this is the protein of the midge.

The immune system that provides protection categorizes these allergens as foreign since they enter the body from the outside. These allergens do not necessarily have to be harmful. Yet the body works to neutralize these substances, and this immune response can sometimes be somewhat exaggerated.

When the horse first comes into contact with an allergen, the immune system produces antibodies, without an allergic reaction. Only when the body is exposed to the same allergen again are chemicals released that act on the body's cells.
An allergic reaction occurs at the place where the horse comes into contact with the allergen and the chemical reaction takes place.

When an allergy is partly caused by a hereditary factor, we speak of atopy or atopic dermatitis.

This (partly) explains why one horse develops sweet itch (or itching complaints) and another does not. The extent to which a horse is sensitive or reacts to the allergen varies individually and depends, among other things, on the environment, management, nutrition and housing.

Horse with summer eczema itching, mane and tail chafing, Summer eczema lotion The Natural Way Laura Cleirens, 100% natural product solution for horses with summer eczema itching tail and mane eczema SME

Horse with sweet itch © Laura Cleirens

How do you ensure good management?

Hypersensitivity to the saliva of the Culicoides mosquito usually occurs around the age of 2, but can also occur earlier or later in life. Once your horse is familiar with sweet itch, this sensitivity will return every year.
Preventive support based on healthy nutrition, management, natural products and support that are tailored to the individual needs of your horse are recommended to break this vicious circle.

The midges' activity varies according to weather conditions, but on average they are active from February to November, depending on temperatures and weather conditions, peaking in the warm, humid summer months. Unfortunately, itching also occurs in our regions in winter because there is no real winter sting anymore. However, itching in the winter months is usually not sweet itch, but is mainly due to feeding policy and/or parasites.

As soon as the temperature rises to 10 °C, mosquitoes become active and your horse is therefore at risk of being bitten. This is the moment you want to be ahead of by taking preventive steps and starting treatment at an early stage with our Zomereczeem lotion, possibly applying an eczema blanket and tailoring a healthy diet to the needs of your horse, supplemented with herbs.

You cannot predict whether your horse will react hypersensitively to the bite of the Culicoides mosquito. However, there is a hereditary factor. Certain breeds are also more susceptible to developing an allergy, such as the Mini, Shetland, Icelandic, Haflinger, Friesian and Fjord, but also coldbloods.

In terms of housing, an open area such as pasture is ideal, because the mosquitoes do not like wind. Try to avoid enclosed areas with trees, shrubs and stagnant water (ditch banks and ponds) as much as possible. Give your horse herd life with others of his kind to cuddle with (satisfaction!) and sufficient hiding places (shelter, open stable, etc.). Also give your horse the opportunity to rub - this sounds contradictory - but imagine for a moment that you have a terrible itch but are not allowed to scratch...

Midges are most active at dawn and dusk. They do not like sunlight, but unfortunately this does not rule out that they are also active during the day. It's quite a job, but it can help to provide your horse with extra protection at those times by stalling or placing an eczema blanket. Fly and/or horsefly sprays are often insufficient to keep mosquitoes at bay for a long time, but they can provide some form of relief during peak times. Be sure to choose natural sprays so as not to burden the body even more.

How is sweet itch diagnosed?

The diagnosis is made by a veterinarian on the basis of the symptoms: itching, chafing on the mane and tail - possibly also on the head, neck and abdominal seam ('midline dermatitis') between +- February and November. In addition, bald spots and sometimes bleeding wounds and thickened skin on the mane comb and tail root ("wrinkles") can also occur. Other names are sweet itch, summer moult, summer itch and tail and mane eczema (SME).

Blood tests provide insight into allergies, liver values, kidney function, vitamin and mineral values ​​and any other underlying conditions such as a metabolic disorder. An allergy test provides an even broader picture that may be necessary to obtain a correct diagnosis, especially when complaints persist for a long time.

Unfortunately, the term 'sweet itch' is used far too quickly, even by professional practitioners. When a horse is found with itching during the summer months, the diagnosis is quickly made, often before a visit has taken place... You understand that this causes many misconceptions and that horses and owners keep walking in circles for an unnecessarily long time. As long as the exact cause is not found, correct treatment cannot be given.

How can you treat sweet itch naturally?

Once we are sure that we are dealing with sweet itch, or the correct diagnosis has been made of another itchy condition, we can start treating it naturally. We list some recommendations:

  • Zomereczeem lotion - The Natural Way

Horse with summer eczema itching, mane and tail chafing, Summer eczema lotion The Natural Way Laura Cleirens, 100% natural product solution for horses with summer eczema itching tail and mane eczema SME

© Customer results with Zomereczeem lotion - The Natural Way

Based on our specialization in itching and skin complaints, we developed a 100% natural, sustainable Zomereczeem lotion to control the symptoms of sweet itch. This provides immediately visible results! The itching and chafing disappear and hair growth is stimulated.

  • Healthy food

In addition, a healthy feeding policy for your horse is very important. Nutrition is tailor-made and should be adapted to the needs of your horse. We can highly recommend our E-book OERVOER (66 pages) for owners of horses that are sensitive to itching. This takes you through the primal needs of horses, (un)healthy food, putting together a healthy ration and learning to assess a feed label, pre- and probiotics, detox and waste products, intestinal flora and organs, herbs and more.

  • Spices

Herbs are an ideal addition to a healthy feeding policy. You can read all about this in our E-book OERVOER . We also wrote some interesting articles about healthy herbs for horses, check out the blog section!

  • Eczema blanket

An eczema blanket can help, especially if you apply it preventively before insects become active. Unfortunately, an eczema blanket does not help every horse and it can become very sultry in the summer. Whether your horse benefits from it varies individually.

  • Housing and management

Suitable housing and management have been described earlier in this article.


Discover our 100 % natural Zomereczeem lotion, Mok olie, CPL olie, Natuur Shampoo and OERVOER (E-book) about healthy nutrition for itch-sensitive horses HERE.

© Laura Cleirens - 2022.01.27
Last updated: 2024.01.29


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