Making Sense of Sweet Itch Treatments

I read many posts and receive messages from owners of horses with sweet itch who are at their wits end having ‘tried everything’.

For someone who feels they’ve tried everything, where can you start to help them?  The answer is to break things down for them and help them work out whether their choices of intervention are making a difference.

You can split the interventions into two categories:  those that are designed to prevent the condition starting and taking hold in the first place and those which are mainly about remediating the symptoms and behaviour which have begun to cause damage. 

I refer to these two categories as Prevent and Turnaround

Obviously, if you can find something that prevents the skin becoming itchy, then that is preferable and it is what every SI horse owner is looking for.  But it isn’t easy and, having worked in this field for a number of years, I have yet to find a foolproof preventative measure. Every now and then we hear about a magical breakthrough – a vaccine or a supplement that is having rave reviews  - then it all goes quiet and you feel glad you didn’t waste your limited budget on an expensive and little reviewed ‘cure’.

The Sweet Itch Pathway: 


If you can intervene at stage A or B and stop the progression, then you are winning and this is what all the best preventative methods are aiming for.  But whichever stage of the pathway you choose to try to halt, you need to know what other owners have found useful.  

Let’s look at these.  But first, I have to make it clear that I manufacture the Biteback range so I know a lot about their usefulness first hand, while for some of the other suggestions I am relying on what I read and hear from others.  I have included the more popular choices as revealed from polls on Facebook Sweet Itch groups.


Bite Reduction/Prevention

Skin Soothers

Rubbing Prevention

Skin breakdown/hair loss prevention

Sweet Itch Rug  e.g. Boett

Benzyl alcohol (found in Sweet Relief Lotion and Cream)

Electric tape around trees and buildings

Antiseptic topical creams such as Biteback Sweet Relief Silver

Barrier creams and lotions e.g. Biteback Sweet Relief Lotion and Cream, Killitch, udder cream

Calamine lotion and other herbal soothers

Old carpet or rubber matting on stable surfaces

Emollient creams such as Biteback SR Cream, Avon Skin so Soft

Fly Repellent e.g. neem oil, Biteback Neem Supreme, Nettex Summer Freedom

Some supplements – yeast, rooibos tea and camomile


Antiseptic powder e.g. Biteback Flowers and Zinc

Some supplements e.g. garlic

Shampoo or acetic rinse to remove grease and sweat, e.g. Biteback Winter Wash or cider vinegar



Control of Environment  e.g. stabling, drier field, windy position, no water nearby, mesh on stable door

Clipping to prevent sweating




De-sensitising injections or anti-histamines




This list is by no means exhaustive and there are thousands of products available which come in and out of fashion.  You need to read widely and try to decide what your aim is before buying expensive products.  It is also a good idea to contact manufacturers and ask which of their products they recommend. 

There are a few simple rules to follow before you decide to buy into expensive products/treatment:

ASSESS THE LOCAL ENVIRONMENT to see if there is a measure you can take to cut down on midges swarming

START EARLY IN THE SEASON before the midges are swarming

TRY ONE THING AT A TIME and give it a fair chance to start working – a week at least, rather than becoming one of those desperate owners who have tried 5 things in a week and wouldn’t know which one is doing the trick if an improvement occurs.


Do get in touch if you would like further information about any of the Biteback products. 

Kath Shaw

© Biteback Products 2019



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