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Flies and Mosquitoes – Your Help Your Horse Guide

Summer is a busy time for you and your horse -- there are lots of shows to attend, trails to explore and other adventures to be had with horse trailers.  It’s so busy, in fact, that sometimes fly and mosquito control are the furthest things from your mind.  Unfortunately, you and your horse aren’t the only busy ones, flies and mosquitoes breed and mature faster in the summer than any other time of the year.  Staying one step ahead of these rapidly multiplying bugs can be a real trick, but pest control is vital to your horse’s health and happiness.


A Tale of Biting Flies 

There are seven types of common biting flies that affect horses.  A few flies are little more than nuisances, but as their numbers grow, your horse may develop open wounds, skin problems or serious fly-transmitted diseases.  Fortunately, many flies can be avoided by stabling your horse in a very clean environment throughout the summer, but when this isn’t possible more targeted fly control may be necessary.  Keep an eye out for these flies this summer:

Tabanids.  Giant flies commonly known as horse or deer flies, these guys measure between 1/2 and 1 1/2 inches long.  If you can keep your horse away from wooded areas through the summer and early fall, you’ll be able to avoid most problems with this pest. 

Biting Midges.  These tiny flies, measuring no more than 1/8 inch long, can be a serious problem for horses due to their small size.  Bites from midges may result in skin hypersensitivities, itching and irritation that is difficult to control.  Stabling horses on calm nights and providing fans to prevent these weak-fliers from landing can be helpful.


Stable Flies.  Looking an awful lot like a housefly, the stable fly is one of those unpleasant residents of the barn.  They like to breed in areas where hay, feed and manure has managed to mix -- it doesn’t take a ton of spilled feed for a huge family of stable flies to take up residence.  Cleanliness is the best cure for stable flies, but you’ll have to make sure you’re getting into the cracks and crevasses, too.


Mosquitoes.  There are a number of reasons to be extremely concerned about mosquito populations around your horse besides the obvious.  Mosquitoes transmit diseases like West Nile Virus, Eastern Equine Encephalitis and Western Equine Encephalitis.  They can be hard to control, but if you focus your efforts on eliminating breeding habitat, you’ll eliminate all the mosquitoes in your area at once.  Look for standing water of any size, from stagnant ponds to leftover party cups and eliminate those that you can.  Still bodies of water should be treated with mosquito dunks or stocked with voracious fish like koi or minnows.


House Flies.  House flies, unlike other types of pest flies, don’t feed directly on horse blood, instead flocking to the secretions coming for your horse’s eyes.  Like stable flies, house flies mature in manure and debris, but house flies are much easier to manage than their cousins.  Sanitation is vital, but you can also catch house flies with fly tape, baits and sticky traps and fit your horse with a fly mask to keep house flies off his face.


Bot Flies.  Bot flies may one of the worst types of flies to find bothering your horse.  These 1/2 long flies attach their eggs to your horse’s hair -- but it’s these larvae that are so dangerous to your horse.  When they hatch, they seek out your horse’s lips and tongue where they burrow and feed.  Eventually, the larvae migrate to your horse’s stomach, travel through the gut and are excreted, ready to pupate.  Wormers containing avermectin can kill bot fly larvae if used regularly.


There are several insecticidal products made to help control pest flies on horses, many containing pyrethroids.  When used in conjunction with sanitation and avoidance of flies these insecticides can be very effective on flies that land and feed on your horse, just make sure to apply them according to package directions and on areas of your horse’s body where flies have been observed feeding.

Dealing with Fly Bites 

If your horse is already suffering from fly-bite related problems, you’ll need to treat the wounds while you’re working at eliminating the source of the bites.  A soothing topical skin protectant can be used on wounds that are irritated, but not red or swollen.  These creams contain medicine to help the wound heal as well as a fly deterrent to prevent further feeding.  Swollen tissues should be carefully examine for signs of infection and treated initially with an ice pack.  Once the wound’s swelling has gone down, you can apply your topical cream to speed your horse’s recovery.


A treated wound is much safer from further damage from flies, but your horse is likely to try to scratch or chew at it as it heals and begins to itch.  Bandage the area, muzzle your horse or limit their access to scratching posts to keep your horse from making their injury much worse.  Chewing and scratching can create much more serious lesions, permanent baldness or cause infection.  Keep stalls clean and dry to prevent secondary infections from setting in and avoid the temptation to over bathe your horse -- this can dry his skin, making his trouble worse.


If you run into trouble with your horse’s fly bites, or they seem to be healing very slowly, contact your veterinarian for advice.  Along with secondary diseases, fly maggots can infiltrate horse wounds, making it extremely hard to treat them on your own.  The sooner you call your veterinarian and take your horse for a ride in your two horse trailer, the faster your horse will be on the road to recovery so don’t wait if your gut tells you that your horse’s fly bite is more than a normal wound.


With a well-planned fly-prevention program in place and armed with some information about the flies that are plaguing your horse, you can be sure that your summer fun isn’t cut short by fly-bite injuries.  Take a look through our blog for more advice on maintaining a healthy, happy horse for years to come.

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