What are Fly Bites?
Flying insects that use a horse as their prey can wreak havoc on the overall health of the horse. There are various insects that can spread viruses and diseases to the horse. Flies that are blood sucking can cause the horse to suffer from infections within the open wounds. Insects that carry toxins cause respiratory distress and cardiac ailments. Other bites cause pus-filled wounds and sores that excrete serum from blisters and scabs. Other types of non-biting flies, such as the bot fly, insert themselves into the horse’s skin and feed on the horse’s secretions that come from the nose, eyes, and mouth. They also carry certain diseases and spread them to the horse, such as anemia, conjunctivitis, eye worms, and anthrax.
Insects such as the blowfly actually lay eggs within the open skin and eggs hatch into maggots which grow within the skin of the horse. Pain and irritation follow, leaving the horse susceptible to several different diseases and infections. It is always important to take a close look at your horse’s skin and coat each day to be sure he isn’t affected by the many types of fly bites than can occur.
Fly bites in equines occur when horses become bitten by various flying insects, thus becoming at risk to various diseases from the insects as they suck the blood, secretions, and other parts of the horses’ bodies.
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Symptoms of Fly Bites in Horses
There are many symptoms to fly bites in horses. Symptoms can range from mild skin irritations to diseases. Symptoms may include:
- Skin lesions
- Allergic dermatitis
- Mechanical dermatitis
- Nodules and pustules
- Hair loss
- Parasite development
- Raw skin
- Fungal disease
- Bacterial infections and diseases
There are a variety of insects that can affect horses, some by opening the skin for infection, blood sucking, and spreading toxins to the horse. Types of insects that can affect horses include:
- Stable flies
- Black flies
- Bot flies
- Face flies
Causes of Fly Bites in Horses
There are many different types of flying insects that can affect horses, which also leads to many different causes. Causes of fly bites in horses include:
- Unkempt manure piles
- Heaps of compost
- Water that is stagnant
- Unsanitary feed bins
- Wet environment, such as pasture close to a pond
- Unsanitary stalls
- Pasture close to a wooded area
- Very warm and humid climate
Diagnosis of Fly Bites in Horses
If your horse is experiencing irritation of the skin, eyes, or ears from fly bites, make an appointment with your veterinarian. He will ask about your horse’s health history, his environment, and any other information that can lead him to a definitive diagnosis.
Your veterinarian will perform a full examination of your horse’s skin, eyes, and ears. This will include an ophthalmic exam to check for any signs of infection, such as conjunctivitis. The veterinarian will also take a close look at the skin and possibly choose to do a skin biopsy in order to receive further information on what insect or insects are causing the skin irritation. He will be looking for specific types of flying insects, infections from parasites, dermatophytosis, allergens, and any other specific causes. Due to the fact that there are many differential diagnoses of this disorder, such as staph infection, urticaria, dermatophilosis, eosinophilic granuloma, and other disorders, the skin biopsy will be able to help him differentiate and come to a conclusive cause.
Your veterinarian will also take samples from your horse’s blood and feces, and perform any other tests he feels are necessary, depending on the clinical signs your horse is exhibiting.
Treatment of Fly Bites in Horses
Treatment for fly bites is dependent upon the type or types of insects that have affected your horse. Treatment methods may include:
Your veterinarian may prescribe a topical medication and apply it to your horse. Before this is done, your horse will be bathed, rinsed, and dried thoroughly. Specific topical medications will depend on the type of bites your horse has, and may include antibiotic ointment, corticosteroid or steroid ointment, and any eye prescription medication if your horse has an eye infection. Ear ointment and medication may also need to be applied.
If your horse is suffering from a chronic allergic reaction to specific insects, your veterinarian will prescribe an antihistamine either taken orally or topically applied. Your horse may be prescribed this antihistamine up until the insect population is controlled by either changing his environment or taking measures to eliminating any insects in the area in which your horse grazes or spends the most of his time.
Ivermectin or another type of antiparasitic medication may be prescribed for your horse to prevent any insects from using his body as a host. This may be given topically or systemically.
In order to keep the insects away from your horse may recommend the use of an insecticide. He will show you how to apply this insecticide on your horse. He may require insecticide only on specific parts of his body, such as his head and neck if he is being affected by houseflies or black flies, and his abdomen and legs for stable flies. He may also recommend leg bands or a neck collar that contains a specific type of insecticide. These work in the same way as a flea collar would work on a dog or cat.
Ear nets are available to cover your horse’s ears, and face nets, or fly veils, can be used to protect his face. These are particularly effective in the evening hours as well as throughout the night when some insects are at their worst.
Your veterinarian may recommend specific changes to your horse’s environment in order to deter any parasites or insects. He will give you advice on stacking manure for composting to keep away the insects in the larvae stage, and cleaning the stable and keeping it clean. Remove any heaps of muck, clean up any hay spillages, and keep the living area free of water and moisture.
Recovery of Fly Bites in Horses
Recovery and management begin with control and prevention of flying insects. Once your horse has been treated for his fly bites, they will return if there is no prevention and control. There are many products on the market today to aid in the control of these pests, and this must be done consistently in order to keep the flying insects away.
Environmental changes which the veterinarian suggests as a treatment method will be quite effective if followed. As a horse owner, you may choose to seek assistance and even more advice on controlling the pests around your horse’s environment.
Once you are sure that your horse’s stall is clean and his pasture is insect-free, and either from the application of repellant, the use of netting to protect him, or the use of a neck collar, you will see a dramatic reduction in flying insects. Many horse owners keep insects away by adopting a variety of methods and combining different solutions to be sure the flies do not affect the horse.
Fly Bites Questions and Advice from Veterinary Professionals
Hello. My horse honey has a large bite on her neck. I noticed today where the actually bite is, got alittle hard. The rest is swollen or full of liquid. I just really hope it is not a tick bite. Thank you!
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After a new horse arrives to our barn, he shows lots of scare tissue from pervouse fly bites . Is there anything to be done about the scare tissue to soften or diminish the scaring ?
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Hi, my horse has an open leision on his face from horse flies bites. I live on an island and the vet can only come out next week. Is there anything I can make up at home that I can put on it please?
Thank you very much. He now has a face mask and fly rug on him and he’s much happier now.
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