Products Help Fight Back Against Sweet Itch

Summer is the itchy season, but there are some products that can bring your horse relief from sweet itch.
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Summer is the itchy season, but there are some products that can bring your horse relief from sweet itch.
Summer can be the itchy season for some horses, but there are products you can use to help ward off insects that cause skin irritation. | Photo by Darrell Dodds

Summer can be the itchy season for some horses, but there are products you can use to help ward off insects that cause skin irritation. | Photo by Darrell Dodds

Is your horse suffering from sweet itch (a common skin condition usually brought on by an allergy to nearly invisible gnats, or midges)? Here's a sampling of tried-and-true products--including costs and contact information--that will give your horse sweet relief.

INSECT REPELLENTS:

Avon Skin-So-Soft

Active Ingredients: Skin conditioners and emollients

How to Use: Dilute 1:3 with water; spritz on affected areas or entire horse as needed (avoid saddle area--it'll get slippery).

Advantages: Nontoxic; works well to repel biting insects even though it's sold as a human bath oil; pleasant non-chemical fragrance.

Disadvantages: Oily residue, necessitating shampoo within two to three days of use.

Cost: About $12.50 for a 16-oz. bottle.

Contact: Avon Inc., (800) FOR-AVON to order, or for a distributor near you.

CLAC 86

Active Ingredients: Essential oils and glycerin.

How to Use: Dilute 1:7 with water; spray on affected areas or entire horse as needed.

Advantages: All natural; nontoxic; can be used generously and often; nice odor; works well; no oily residue; concentrate (dilute 1:7) is a bargain.

Disadvantages: Made in Germany and you may have to search a bit to find it. Check online or at Big Ds.

Cost: About $30 for a 32-oz. bottle of concentrate, diluted 1:7 or 1:4 in water.

Contact: Whitman Saddle Col, 800-253-0852 to order, or for a distributor near you.

Gold Nugget Gnat-Away

Active Ingredients: Herbal extracts and emollients in a vanishing cream base.

How to Use: Apply to affected areas as needed.

Advantages: All natural; nontoxic; nice odor; works well; no oily residue.

Disadvantages: Too expensive to use on entire horses, so reserve it for spot-treating much-bothered and sensitive areas, such as your horse's face and ears; not widely distributed-you may have to search to find it.

Cost: About $9 to $12 for a 16-oz. jar of cream.

Contact: Neogen, 800-621-8829 to order, or for a distributor near you.

Shapley's M-T-G

Active Ingredients: Skin conditioners and emollients.

How to Use: Apply to affected areas as needed.

Advantages: Nontoxic; works well to repel biting insects, even though there are no label claims to this effect; also helps heal affected skin.

Disadvantages: Unpleasant "mineral" smell (like selenium); oily residue necessitates weekly shampoos.

Cost: About $14.95 for a 32-oz. bottle.

Contact: Henry E. Shapley, Ltd, 800-982-2017 to order, or for a distributor near you.

INSECTICIDES:

Commercial Fly Sprays and Wipes

Active Ingredients: Various concentrations of pyrethrins, carbaryl or piperonyl butoxide.

How to Use: Spray or wipe according to label instructions.

Advantages: All do a fair job of killing and repelling flies and gnats; they vary mainly in the strength of pyrethrins (1/2 to 2 percent) or other active chemicals in their formulas--generally the stronger formulations are supposed to last longer.

Disadvantages: All are weakened by rain, profuse sweating, bathing, rinsing or rolling in wet grass; potential for toxicosis due to too-frequent and/or heavy applications (read the label for maximum application rate).

Cost: $5-$20 for a standard 32-oz. bottle.

Contact: Check labels for manufacturers' contact information.

Swat

Active Ingredients: Pyrethrins in an oil-based ointment.

How to Use: Apply directly to fly-strike areas.

Advantages: Can be applied on superficial wounds; has both insecticidal and repellent properties; thick ointment stays in place for many hours; new clear formulation is less visible than the pink original; very effective; widely available.

Disadvantages: Too expensive and thick to apply to whole horse; appropriate for spot-treating only, on wounds and ear tips; if applying to clipped ears, don't allow a glop to fall into your horse's ear canal.

Cost: About $8.95 for a 6-oz. jar.

Contact: Farnam, 800-234-2269 for a distributor near you.

SKIN SOOTHERS:

Absorbine Liniment

Active Ingredients: Menthol; natural herbs and extracts.

How to Use: Apply to itchy areas (but only if the skin isn't broken, or it will sting).

Advantages: Works well to soothe thickened, irritated skin typically seen on crest of the neck; seems to repel insects; widely available.

Disadvantages: Causes stinging when applied to broken skin, which lasts only a few minutes.

Cost: About $14 for a 1-quart bottle.

Contact: W.F. Young, Inc., 800-628-9653 for a distributor near you.

Aloe-Vera Gel

Active Ingredients: Aloe.

How to Use: Apply directly onto irritated skin.

Advantages: Inexpensive; widely available; doesn't cause residual build-up.

Disadvantages: Effects tend to be short-lived (about 2 hours).

Cost: $4 for a 16-oz. bottle.

Contact: Available in grocery stores, pharmacies, and health-food stores.

Capsaicin Cream

Active Ingredients: Capsicum, from hot red peppers.

How to Use: Apply directly to irritated, itchy areas.

Advantages: Proven to block the transmission of the "itch" or "pain" signal from the lesion to the brain for up to six hours; cumulative effects make it more effective with repeated use.

Disadvantages: Initially stings (stay with your horse at first to make sure he doesn't scratch or rub more), but the sting wears off quickly and decreases with repeated use.

Cost: About $8 for a 4-oz. jar of cream.

Contact: Available in grocery stores and pharmacies.

Cortisone Cream

Active Ingredients: Hydrocortisone.

How to Use: Apply directly to irritated skin.

Advantages: Helps relieve heat, inflammation, and itch on sensitive, thin-skinned areas.

Disadvantages: Much less effective over thicker-skinned areas in which the skin has been broken; expensive; can increase risk of infection.

Cost: $6 for a 3-oz. tube of cream.

Contact: Available in grocery stores and pharmacies.

Shapely's M-T-G

Active Ingredients: Skin conditioners and emollients.

How to Use: Apply directly to itchy/inflamed/abraded areas once or twice daily.

Advantages: In addition to soothing the inflammation and itch, skin conditioners help speed healing; also has some insect-repelling capabilities.

Disadvantages: Unpleasant "mineral" odor (like selenium); oily residue.

Cost: About $14.95 for a 32-oz. bottle.

Contact: Henry E. Shapley, Ltd, 800-982-2017 to order, or for a distributor near you.

Resiprox (Allerderm/Virbac

Active Ingredients: Oatmeal, pramoxine Hcl and skin conditioners.

How to Use: After bathing or wetting, apply as a leave-in conditioner, working well into your horse's coat, mane, and tail base.

Advantages: Effective in soothing the itch for up to 4 days; pleasant odor.

Disadvantages: Labeled for use on dogs and cats, not horses; expensive for use on horses; available only through your veterinarian.

Cost: About $10 for a 8-oz. bottle.

Contact: Available only through your veterinarian.

Witch Hazel

Active Ingredients: Hamamelis.

How to Use: Daub or spritz directly to irritated skin.

Advantages: Inexpensive; widely available; no oily residue.

Disadvantages: Effects tend to be short-lived (about 1 hour).

Cost: $1.50 for a 16-oz. bottle.

Contact: Available in grocery stores and pharmacies.