For all those who don’t know it yet, my New Forest Pony “Merlin” (in the picture) is sweet itch. Really gross sweet itch. And since I just can’t believe that there is still no panacea for this disease I regularly search the internet forums. With fatal consequences. Not only are the most hair-raising treatment tips recommended there and concerned horse owners suddenly start using strong chemicals in the kitchen, but the insults the group members call each other are sometimes really unbelievable.

That’s where I’m out, I’m not taking part. But why does it come to this?

I think because there are many other causes for itching in horses besides sweet itch. Often the “(self-)diagnosis” of sweet itch is made hastily. Other reasons can also be the trigger for horses to chafe. Parasite infestation, metabolic problems or simply the fact that the horse is bored – just to name a few reasons. You can already see – a complex problem.

In order to get to the bottom of the myths surrounding this much discussed topic I have looked up in scientific and veterinary literature. I found facts about sweet itch, but also interesting facts about herbal extracts and oils. These cannot work wonders and cannot cure eczema – but they can help your pet to get through the eczema season in a more bearable way.

Your Marie-Christine from the CXEVALO® Team <3

Sweet itch: the facts.

Sweet itch (horse) – known as “Insect Bite Hypersesitivity (IBH)” – is an allergic dermatitis. It is an allergy-related, inflammatory reaction of the horse’s skin to insect bites. Especially the bites of the insect genus Gnitz, but also those of the common biting fly, horseflies and mosquitoes can therefore trigger this allergic reaction in horses. If the insects bite the horse’s skin, certain allergenic substances are “inoculated”. The places on the horse’s body where the eczema is most pronounced: Linea alba – i.e. the midline on the horse’s belly – udder, hose, mane area, withers and tail attachment. Up to now, no medication or medical treatment has been found which could prevent this allergic reaction. But there is a lot of research going on.

In order to keep the effects of sweet itch in the affected horses as low as possible, there is already an important measure:

If possible, to avoid that the horse is stung by the allergenic insects. This can be achieved either by a sweet itch/fly blanket or by spraying a repellent against insects regularly and without gaps – or of course a combination of both.

If the eczema is already advanced, it is advisable to wash twice a week with a particularly mild horse shampoo to keep the wounds clean and remove the remains of dead insects and to treat the wounds with e.g. a zinc ointment. In times of really strong itching the vet should be called in. By administering an anti-inflammatory medication he can provide short-term relief so that the damaged skin can regenerate. (Montes, Leopoldo, & Vaughan, 1983), (Schaffartzik, Hamaza, Janda, Crameri, & Marti, 2012)

Herbal ingredients that can help relieve symptoms

Some oils and extracts can also be obtained from nature, which contribute to the regeneration of damaged skin or are used as active ingredients in a mosquito spray. But one thing you must be aware of: even these herbal substances are not a miracle cure, everyone must find out for himself and his horse which care combination is best suited. The most important thing is prevention, so that there are as few allergy-causing bites as possible.

Here are the names of some oils and extracts I have found:

Eucalyptus Citriodora oil (abbreviation: EC Oil (HC))
An oil extracted from the leaves of the lemon eucalyptus provides long-lasting protection against mosquitoes and biting flies. Eucalyptus citriodora oil is contained in CXEVALO® Repellent, for example.

Mint oil
As an ingredient in a particularly mild horse shampoo, mint oil can provide a cooling effect that soothes itching. Mint oil is contained in CXEVALO® cooling shampoo, for example.

Hamamelis extract
The plant is also known as witch hazel and its extract contains tanning agents and tannin components that have anti-inflammatory effects, among other things. This has even been proven in studies. Witch hazel extract is used for mild skin injuries and local inflammation of the skin (Jänicke, Grünwald, & Brendler, 2003). Hamamelis extract is contained e.g. in CXEVALO® coat care spray.