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Sweet Itch: Not so sweet

Sweet Itch is a condition that can victimize all breeds and types of horses, ponies, and donkeys, as well as being genetic. Triggered by an allergic reaction to the protein in the saliva of the biting insect, sweet itch leads to the immune system attacking its own cells provoking an extreme reaction.

During the months of March to November, the biting insects are most active and that is when the physical and mental wellbeing of our equines is impacted. One of Crosskennan Lane’s volunteers, Adele, has extensively researched sweet Itch after caring for a young colt named Vison who has been impacted by the condition. Adele states, "sweet itch is something that can severely affect the physical and mental wellbeing of a horse.

Vision growing in his mane after rubbing areas away with increased scratching.

Once a horse with sweet itch is exposed to the Culicoides midge and is bitten, the reaction begins”. Despite the perception that scratching would relieve the itch, Adele voices that this is not the case as “when the horse scratches the bite site, the itch intensifies, like a chain reaction” which leads to the animals scratching “themselves raw and bloody to alleviate the itch”.

Lady (above) had to be hogged on arrival at the sanctuary in 2016 as part of her treatment plan. She had rubbed most of her skin raw and her tail took a long time to grow back. She was very nervous of human contact which made staff and volunteer's work even more difficult.

This also impacts their mental wellbeing as they become “severely agitated and distressed”. If the condition is not managed properly and the animal continues to be bitten, the itch and scratch cycle can become so intense sedation and steroids are the only solution. However, steroids are not ideal as they can cause laminitis in horses. Furthermore, Adele vocalizes, “some sweet itch horses can become unrideable during peak months as they fling and toss their heads when they encounter the fly, which is unpleasant for both rider and horse."

Vision looking for a spot to alleviate the itch. Unfortunately, this will only intensify the itch and lead to an increased need to scratch.

Speaking of the sanctuary’s care routine during peak season, Adele says the six affected equines “need to be sprayed with fly spray several times daily, constantly checked for bites and sores to apply ointment, rugging either continually or when in turnout, given weekly or daily supplements, and closely monitored for signs of an itch and scratch cycle". By the team at Crosskennan Lane ensuring treatments are applied and the equines are closely monitored, they are able to prevent sweet itch sufferers from requiring veterinary attention. The public can support the equine residents who suffer from sweet itch by donating to cover the price of required treatments. Treatments include the Bio-Plus tablets by the BioEs company which shift the immune system into a state that effectively manages the immune response to allergens.

Sadie is our newest arrival to suffer from sweet itch. She had to be kitted out with new fly and sweet itch rugs (which she has already managed to put a hole in!) and our supplement and fly spray bills increased with her arrival too.

These tablets cost £240 per equine each year and have proved to be successful. The sanctuary also uses fly spray daily which costs between £15-£20 per bottle, as well as ointments and anti-itch creams for the bites and sores on exposed skin. Another item Crosskennan Lane uses to support the affected equines is specialist sweet itch rugs. These cost £80 - £170 depending on the shape and size of the equine and need continual repair due to the damage caused by scratching.

Journalist - Holly Fleck

If you can help with the ongoing care of horses and ponies like Vision, Lady and Sadie (just three of our current 6 sweet itch sufferers), we would really appreciate it.


Help us to help them!

Please, CLICK here to Make a Donation (PAYPAL)!

Or You can send a donation via a bank transfer to

Sort Code: 950202

Account Number: 31184288



If you want to get stuff delivered to us you can get it posted directly to Crosskennan Lane Animal Sanctuary, 26 Crosskennan Lane, Ballynoe, Antrim, BT41 2QY

Or send us an email to to arrange a drop-off of donations!

Did you know you can send grocery deliveries to us too? Just let us know in advance, and you can do a ASDA, Tesco's, Sainsbury's Online delivery and get it dropped off at the sanctuary. We can make use of so much from your local supermarket, from fresh fruit and veg, to frozen peas and sweetcorn, fresh chicken, ham, liver, washing up powder/tablets, dish soap, bleach, disinfectant, toilet rolls, dog food, cat food, birdseed... The list could go on forever!


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