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Sweet itch and other causes of itching in horses

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

Many horses with itching are unnecessarily labeled "sweet itch", because chafing of the mane and tail is quickly attributed to this.

However, itching has many causes that we will explore further in this article. It is important to determine the cause of itching, so that you can really treat the core of the problem.

We describe all causes of itching in much more detail in our E-book OERVOER: healthy food for itch-sensitive horses.

Summer eczema, itching and chafing, causes in horses. The Natural Way solution.

Konik with itching © Laura Cleirens 


  • Causes of itching in horses
    • Sweet itch
    • Insulin resistance (IR)
    • Cryptopyrroluria (KPU)
    • Equine Metabolic Syndrome (EMS)
    • Allergy
    • Power supply
    • Wastes
    • Liver imbalance
    • Kidney imbalance
    • Intestinal flora imbalance
    • Hormonal imbalance
    • Castration
    • Beans
    • Parasites
    • Blockages
    • Moulting and coat change
    • Wounds and bacterial infections
    • Stress
    • Boredom
  • Final word


Sweet itch

Sweet itch is caused by a hypersensitive reaction to the saliva of the female Culicoides robertii mosquito (midges), which needs blood to lay its eggs. The midge's saliva contains proteins to which the horse reacts by rubbing.

Hypersensitivity to midges' saliva usually occurs around the age of 2, but can also occur earlier or later in life. Once your horse is familiar with sweet itch, it will return every year. Preventive support in the spring - before the vicious circle starts - is therefore recommended.

The diagnosis is made on the basis of the symptoms: itching, chafing of the mane and tail - possibly also of the head, neck and abdominal seam - the latter is called midline dermatitis. In addition, bald spots and sometimes bleeding wounds and thickened skin on the mane comb and tail root (the well-known "wrinkles") can also occur.

The activity of the Culicoides robertii mosquito varies according to weather conditions, but on average this is around the end of February to November, depending on temperatures and weather conditions, with a peak in the summer months. As soon as the temperature rises to 10 °C, your horse is at risk. This is the time to get ahead of yourself by starting treatment early with our Zomereczeem lotion and/or applying an eczema blanket.

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

There is currently no test on the market for private individuals, so testing based on a skin sample or blood test is pointless. Blood tests can provide insight into allergies, liver values, vitamins, minerals and any other underlying conditions.

At The Natural Way we have developed a 100% natural, sustainable Zomereczeem lotion based on essential oils and sweet almond oil that relieves itching, nourishes the skin, stimulates hair growth and cleanses.

Click here for more information about Zomereczeem lotion.

An eczema blanket can provide relief, especially if you apply it at the start of sweet itch season (+- February-November depending on the weather conditions), but this does not help every horse. A good feeding policy is the utmost priority, you can read all about this later in this article.

Insulin resistance (IR)

Insulin resistance is a metabolic disorder in which horses have too high insulin levels in the blood, do not absorb nutrients properly or do not break down waste products properly. So there is an imbalance in nutrition and energy consumption.

We often see the same symptoms as in horses with sweet itch, but you usually recognize this condition by the fat deposits (thickened mane comb) and fat bumps on the back and buttocks. However, there are also skinny horses with insulin resistance, so be sure to be well informed and, if you suspect insulin resistance, have a blood test carried out by the vet.

Cryptopyrroluria (KPU)

Kryptopyrroluria is also a metabolic disorder that affects liver and intestinal health, resulting in a collection of vague complaints (itching, sweet itch, allergies, mud fever, respiratory complaints, manure water, intestinal problems, laminitis, EMS, insulin resistance, etc.).

It is still a relatively unknown prosperity problem, hence the brief information about it. If you suspect KPU, ask your vet for advice. A blood test is unreliable, but a urine test can provide you with more insight.

Equine Metabolic Syndrome (EMS)

Equine Metabolic Syndrome is a condition in which complaints arise from a combination of various factors, namely obesity, insulin resistance, hormonal imbalance, disturbed lipid metabolism and an increased susceptibility to laminitis.

You probably recognize the horses that get fat just by looking at a blade of grass. The cause of this lifestyle disease may lie in diet and limited exercise options, but it is still being thoroughly investigated.


Allergies can also cause itching. An allergy test conducted by the vet can provide clarity about the causes. After diagnosis, he or she will draw up a treatment plan, usually using immunotherapy. The results are variable.

A distinction can be made between seasonal allergies (pollen, grasses, certain plants, insects, ...), food allergies (grasses, grains, certain plants, ...) and atopy/atomic dermatitis (reaction to environmental allergens) such as hay mites , fungi,...

Power supply

Nutrition is one of the biggest causes of itching in horses, just as obesity plays an important role in this. A thorough analysis of what you feed is therefore highly recommended. We wrote a complete E-book about this: OERVOER, healthy food for itch-sensitive horses.


Itching can also occur after using medication, giving a detox cure or receiving treatment from an osteopath or massage therapist. This releases waste products that are removed from the body and can cause itching. The itching and associated chafing only last for a relatively short period of time.

Liver imbalance

When the functioning of the liver is disturbed or overloaded, the skin (your horse's largest organ) comes into action to take over part of its function, resulting in itching and flakes. The vet can investigate this with a blood test.

Kidney imbalance

An imbalance in the kidneys can cause itching and flaky skin. Ask your vet for a blood test.

Intestinal flora imbalance

An imbalance in the intestines is one of the biggest causes of itching, partly caused by incorrect nutrition that is not adapted to the needs of your horse. The adjustment process can take several months to a year.

Hormonal imbalance

A hormonal imbalance can also cause itching. In mares this is often in line with their cycle (or pregnancy), which is mainly manifested in tail chafing, but this can also continue to occur throughout the year. There is often a connection with (protein-rich) food. Ask your vet and/or osteopath for a check-up or treatment. Herbs can also provide support - always use under supervision.


In addition to the hormonal problems, we see that itching can also occur after castration. Acupuncture could help with this.


Mares can start chafing their tails when they have beans in their vulva. Have your horse checked by an expert.


Other causes such as worms, mites, lice, fungi, rain scab should be excluded as a cause of itching. Check your horse regularly.


Not necessarily a cause of itching, but of chafing. A horse with a blockage in its body can try to remove it itself. Just think of the neck and tail, but also the head (headache, poorly fitting bridle, trauma,...).

Moulting and coat change

During the moult, many horses suffer from jitters, nothing to worry about. But towards spring and autumn - alternating warm/cold days and nights - a winter coat can start to heat up, which can cause severe itching.

Wounds and bacterial infections

Wounds are a vicious circle: they are often caused by itching, but in turn also cause itching. Itching is often also a symptom of healing. Make sure that no bacterial infections occur. If in doubt, ask your vet for advice.


Stress can also be a factor in whether or not you start sanding. After trauma during/after a stressful period, itching may occur.


We cannot say it often enough: a horse is a herd animal that needs fresh air and exercise as its natural habitat. 24/7 grazing/paddock with herd mates should not be a luxury - this is a basic need of your horse.


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 - 2020.09.28
Last updated : 2024.01.26

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