Sweet itch, also known as pruritus, describes the sensation experienced by a horse in reaction to an underlying cause, most commonly the saliva from Culicoides midges.
In a similar way to people reacting to some insect bites, there’s an intense desire to itch the affected area.
It’s an allergic reaction and is a condition that’s particularly prevalent in native breeds, but can affect any horse regardless of breed, type or age, with varying degrees of severity.
The most severely afflicted horses will scratch and scratch, causing self-trauma that can lead to secondary infections.
Unless action is taken, this can become a cycle where the itching progressively causes greater trauma.
Other less common causes of sweet itch are hypersensitivity to some feeds and reactions to nettle stings.
Sweet itch is relatively widespread, affecting up to 5% of the horse population.