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Keeping Flies & Midges Away From Your Horse

As we make the transition from winter to the warmer months of spring and summer, one major problem all horse owners will agree on is flies!

Flies, midges and all sorts of other flying insect start to emerge when it gets warm and they can be a major pest for your horse.

Unfortunately horses aren’t very well equipped to deal with flying pests so they can quite easily irritate your horse or even cause diseases such as sweet itch – an allergic reaction to biting midges.

There are some things you can do to help however so don’t despair, take a look at our suggestions to keep your horse fly free!

Natural Fly Repellents

One of your best options to keep midges and flies at bay is to use fly repellents. These are usually solutions that you can spray on your horse throughout the day and they will repel flying insects such as midges.

If you opt for a natural fly repellent, then it is highly likely that the product is going to contain something called Citriodiol™ or citronella.

Citronella oil is extracted from lemon grass and has been used as a natural repellent and biopesticide for decades. Whilst citronella oil is an effective repellent, it does require application directly to the skin every hour or so to be effective, which is why we suggest looking for products that contain Citriodiol™.

Citriodiol™, extracted from eucalyptus, is considered the most effective natural insect repellent currently available and works great if you are looking for a natural, gentle fly repellent. Studies have shown that Citriodiol™ is almost as effective as some synthetic repellents when used in similar quantities.

In some cases, you might need something a little more effective than the natural suggestions above – especially if your horse suffers badly with sweet itch and that’s where the synthetic repellents come in.

Synthetic Repellents

Some people are a bit wary of using products that contain man-made (synthetic) chemicals. However, if you horse is suffering from stress caused by flies and a natural repellent just isn’t keeping the insects at bay, it might be time to try something a little more powerful.

Synthetic fly repellents typically contain a chemical called DEET. DEET is a highly effective repellent that was developed by the Armed Forces to repel insects in the jungle! Despite it’s strength, DEET is perfectly safe to use as a repellent and is highly effective. Don’t be put off by the fact that it was developed by the army, if you horse is suffering major stress from flies – use DEET!

Most fly repellents for horses will not contain more than 20% DEET, but this is enough to provide protection for a number of hours at a time. DEET repellents need only be applied 2-4 times a day.

Other Ways to Keep the Flies at Bay

If you can cover your horse’s face, ears and body with rugs and masks, this can help reduce the amount of flies that can reach the skin of your horse. As it gets warmer you probably aren’t going to want to cover your horse up though!

Instead, try not to turn out when flies are most active (dawn and dusk). If you do want to use insect repellents though, a combination of a DEET repellent and natural repellent works great!

Keep an Eye Out for Sweet Itch

The summer months are when sweet itch is most likely to occur as this is when midges are most active. Keep an eye on the condition of your horse’s skin, this way you’ll be able to act fast if you notice that your horse is reacting to midge bites.

There are products available, such as Killitch that will treat the allergic reaction, soothe the skin and help to repel the midges.

Your Thoughts

Have you got a great way to keep the flies at bay? We want to hear it! Let us know in the comments below!


About James Watts

BSc Bioveterinary Science. Editor of PetSci. When I'm not writing, learning, discussing, or reading about animals, you know it's the weekend! Currently developing PetSci HealthTrak, the fast and easy way to monitor your pet's weight and calorie intake. HealthTrak offers a simple way to track your pet's progress, helping them achieve a healthy weight and a long, happy life.

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