Horses are prone to being attacked by several species of airborne insects. Flies are rather annoying, but the bites are extremely unpleasant for the horses and can cause a variety of health issues, many of which could be potentially very serious. It is, therefore, important to take whatever measures you can to protect your boy or girl such as using horse fly masks, sheets and fly repellent.
There are approximately 120,000 species of flies that have been described worldwide. This includes the Tabanidae family more commonly known as horse-flies and deer flies which will bite both horses and humans. The bites are extremely painful. Female horse-flies require a high protein meal of blood before they can reproduce. They have long mandibles which rip open the skin and can do so even through clothing. The painful nature of the bites is useful to the flies as it makes the poor victim more likely to focus on their wound rather than attempting to retaliate.
A bite from a member of the Tabanidae family is certainly an unpleasant experience and could also lead to health problems or diseases. These include equine infectious anaemia, encephalomyelitis, parasitic filarial worm infestation and sores. Multiple bites can also result in considerable blood loss which can ultimately weaken horses.
Gnats and black flies also attack horses. Gnat bites are irritating and can result in the formation of scabs. Multiple bites can lead to respiratory and cardiac depression. Black flies are quite rare in Britain but they do exist. They feed on the blood from inside the ears of horses and from the soft areas of their thighs.
Even non-biting insects like house flies and bot flies can prove problematic as they feed on secretions from the eyes, nose and mouth. These insects are the carriers of several conditions including anthrax, eye worms, conjunctivitis and equine infectious anaemia.
Horses may develop an acute allergic reaction to insect saliva. This leads to a skin condition known as sweet itch. The immune system of the horse attacks the saliva, although this would usually contain only harmless proteins. The immune system effectively overreacts and begins to attack the horse’s own skin cells leading to itching, flaky skin, hair loss and sores.
Flies are certainly a major problem for horses and so it makes sense to protect your animals from being attacked. Your first priority should be to reduce the number of flies around the stable and pasture.
Muck out as often as possible and keep stored waste protected from the rain and as far from the horses as possible. Flies are attracted to dung, particularly moist dung, and like to lay their eggs in it. Standing water is also a magnet for flies so it is best to avoid turning out horses into areas with or close to stagnant water and puddles.
Horse Fly Masks & Protection
No matter how careful you are, the presence of some flies is inevitable, especially in the summer months. You can further protect your horse by purchasing a fly sheet and fly mask or fly veil. Some fly sheets incorporate a fly mask. Fly sheets and horse fly masks will save your horse from many unpleasant bites and are modest investments which could save you from expensive vets’ bills at a later date.
Fly masks help to keep the worst of the flies away from your horses’ face, especially the eyes and ears. Many fly masks also protect against harmful UV rays and some have also been treated with an insect repellent. This helps to keep your boy or girl happier as they less irritated by the pesky insects, which is much better for you too! Take a look at our selection of fly masks online here.
It is always worth checking over your old horse fly masks in advance of the warmer weather, to make sure that there are no large holes or splits. Then you will have time to buy a new one before the flies come out. A top tip is to have more than more than one fly mask at the ready, as some horses have a habit of losing them in the field or hanging them up in bushes or trees.
You can also consider using fly repellents. A wide variety of chemical and natural repellents are available in the form of sprays, gels, wipes and body washes. These are formulated to be safe for your horse but take care not to over-apply products which contain DEET (N-Diethyl-meta-toluamide). This chemical can cause skin irritation, especially when applied to damaged areas of skin.