Flies - Why should your horse put up with them?

Posted by Wormers-direct on 15th Jan 2020

Flies - Why should your horse put up with them?

Flies are not only a major irritation to horses, causing them to become stressed and uncomfortable during the warmer weather, but they also increase the risk of the spread of disease.  ‘A good fly control programme is highly advisable during the summer, to help keep your horse happy and healthy’, says Zoetis vet Wendy Talbot.

Ectoparasite is the term used to describe parasites that affect animals externally, and horses are prone to attack from many species, including house flies, horse flies, black flies, blow flies, bot flies, mosquitoes, midges, lice, ticks and mites.  They can cause dermatitis, pruritic (itchy) conditions, lumps and skin lesions.  They can also cause conjunctivitis, headshaking, contamination of wounds and have the potential to spread other diseases.  Biting midges, Cullicoides spp. can be a particular bugbear as they are the cause of sweet itch.  Mosquitoes are also well known biting pests.  Over 30 species have been recorded in the UK, including those with the potential to spread diseases such as West Nile Virus, a fatal disease that is luckily not found in the UK at present.1,2 Flies may also carry other parasites that can infect the horse such as Habronema spp. and Onchocerca cervicalis, which can affect the skin and in extreme cases the eye.

Knowing the type of fly that is causing a problem can be useful in deciding how best to control it.  In general most flies thrive and breed in warm, moist conditions such as on dung, rotting bedding or spilt feed material.  From these unsavoury places they can spread bacteria to the horse, especially to vulnerable areas such as the eye and wounds.

The most effective way to control flies is with a double-pronged approach of good management and a proven fly repellent or insecticide.  Frequent removal of droppings from the pasture and stable will reduce fly breeding grounds, while keeping the muck heap well away from stables and paddocks and keeping stables meticulously clean will reduce the risk of flies bothering the horse.  Fly rugs and facemasks are essential for many horses in the summer and applying a fly repellent or insecticide to the rug can make it even more effective.

As an owner it can be very difficult to choose which fly product will work best for you.  A repellent aims to make the horse less attractive to the fly.  An insecticide aims to kill the fly as soon as possible after contact with no biting needed and can remain effective for up to four weeks against some ectoparasites.  For maximum effectiveness treatment should be started before the fly season has begun to control breeding, and continued at regular intervals throughout the season.

The fact that insecticides have a medicinal function by killing the insects, means they require a licence from the Veterinary Medicines Directorate to ensure their responsible, safe and effective use.  Speak to your vet or SQP about the most effective prescription insecticide available for your horse.

“We would never put up with fly infestations so why should our horses?” said Wendy Talbot. “If one product does not seem to work well for your horse, consider a different formulation or ingredient.  With a repellent ensure that it has an HSE number or that it has been authorised by the UK.”

Speak to your vet or SQP to find out more. Use medicines responsibly