Itchy bug bite sites can make you and your horse miserable. These varmints are scientifically known Ectoparasites and, are often the cause of allergies in horses. Healthy Horse Hints this issue is designed to help you identify the problem and try to prevent it.
HHH: The best way to break the parasite life cycle is to remove manure.
Approximately 50 lbs of "horse mail" is produced each day by a 1,000 lb horse, so it's no wonder why flies, a primary dermatological parasite, are always close by the barn! Dung creates an ideal breeding ground for bacteria of external parasites. In turn, parasite larvae depart their host (horse) by way of the manure. Additionally, horses may urinate every 4 hours, which encourages insect breeding and an increased worm burden. Soiled bedding can result in many health issues, including thrush. Eliminate favorable conditions for fly larvae and parasite eggs.
HHH: Allow proper space away from feeding areas to minimize the risk of re-infection.
Horses avoid the odor of their own excrements near their feed when given the opportunity. Using diatomaceous earth in feed will pass some of it through undigested and on into the manure, where it inhibits the fly larvae after flies lay their eggs. Atop waste matter it also helps eliminate odors!
HHH: Sulfur deficient horses are more inclined to suffer from topical parasites!
Sulfur is said to discourage mosquitoes. Chemicals and fertilizers lock up sulfur in the soil and render it unavailable to plants and in turn may cause deficiencies in your horse.
Options: Use humates as natural fertilizer instead of chemicals.
Try adding 1 teaspoon of sulfur per day in feed to deter topical parasites. Garlic and organic wheat are both high in sulfur. *Ross Red Fever is carried by mosquitoes and is found in sulfur deficient horses. Try mega doses of Vitamin C and minerals, ground ginger, colloidal silver and oxygen therapy.
HHH: Avoid poisons that eradicate both good and bad insects!
There are millions of insects, most beneficial in some way; yet only 1 percent is considered pests. Topical parasitic nuisances include assorted flies, mosquitoes, gnats, bees, wasps, bots, warbles, grubs, screwworms, lice, mites, fleas, and spiders. Nature has its own police force, but when things get out of balance we should seek healthy alternatives for our horses, soil, and humankind that do not damage the quality of life to future generations!
HHH: Young animals are most at risk of having fly allergies.
Most female adults of horseflies, black flies, mosquitoes and others produce no eggs unless they have had a meal of blood. When she bites, she injects a small amount of saliva, which prevents the horses' blood from clotting. If the female develops on an animal that is infected (ex. cattle tick fever) then the larvae hatching from her eggs will transmit the disease obtained from the host. Also, EPM has been linked to flies that land on the feces of infected opossum, whose feet and legs may carry sporocysts. Young horses have not had time to develop an immunity to fly saliva. Itching and swelling may occur.
HHH: Mosquito bites can cause painful itchy wheals and papules.
Mosquito populations are largest during warm weather or after rainfall. They tend to suck blood (feed) at night and are quite resilient to change; for example 2 types known to lay eggs on water that can hatch even if the water disappears. Mosquito-born diseases may include equine encephalitis and West Nile virus. WNV can be carried by avian species (even for long distances), which once infected, are bitten by the mosquito, which in turn bites the horse. Not all horses will get the WNV from infected mosquitoes.
Options: Consider a propane mosquito trap to cover 1 acre+. CO2 and water vapor pulls feeding females inside.
Kill larvae where they breed; avoid spewing chemicals into the air or on your horse's skin!
Eliminate stagnant water areas such as old tires, buckets, and tarps around barns to prevent mosquito havens.
Try wild geranium as the base for a shampoo for your horse- it repels mosquitoes.
Lavender oil can mask the scent that naturally draws mosquitoes.
Use fluorescent lights in the barn. They don't attract mosquitoes.
The long legged fly; common around the vegetable garden, is a beneficial predator that eats mosquito larvae, as does the robber fly.
See Texas Bug Book by C. Malcolm Beck and J. Howard Garrett, University of Texas Press, Box 7819, Austin, Texas 78713-7819 pg 96/97 and 161 for numerous organic options for mosquito control such as instant coffee crystals (2 tablespoons per 100 sq feet of water surface), mineral oil, and their proprietary recipes for garlic-pepper tea, Gardenville Fire ant control formula and Garrett juice! An excellent resource for all bug aficionados!
HHH: Allergic horses are hypersensitive to gnats due to a genetic predisposition.
There are over 1000 species of Culicoides gnats, also known as biting midges "no-see-ums", and "sand flies". Eggs are laid on decaying vegetation, damp marshy areas, or in manure. Most are aquatic and winter in a larval state. Adult gnats are blood suckers and generally feed dusk to dawn; preferring warm humid climates. The skin diseases vary but may include African Horse Sickness here in the US, shown by signs of edema on the eyelid and the intermandibular.
Options: An equine bodysuit can be worn by horses in severe cases.
Try a Propane mosquito trap with an added octenol strip.
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Stable the horse dusk to dawn in the middle of the barn because gnats generally do venture beyond doors and windows!
To prevent gnats from entering through a window, put a 32-mesh screen over the window or put in a window fan. Gnats are weak fliers!
HHH: Avoid poisons that eradicate both good and bad insects!
A large number of bites can result in cardiovascular dysfunction, shock and even death. Eggs are laid on plants or stones just below the surface of water in running streams. Vicious biting blood suckers (favoring thin haired areas), adults can fly long distances, but are most active in AM/PM spring & early summer.
Options: Diatomaceous earth and citrus products are used to control buffalo gnats organically.
Vanilla in a spray form has also been used.
HHH: Gnats and mosquitoes can be intermediate hosts for worms, which cause skin disease in horses!
The worm species from the genus Onchocerca causes cutaneous lesions. They prefer warm weather with their highest numbers in spring, lowest in winter although also deeper in the dermis in winter. They inhabit unevenly in pockets or nests on face, neck, back, and ventral midline.
HHH: Horse fly ("deerfly" or "breeze fly") bites cause itchy papules and wheals with a central ulcer and crust mostly located on legs, neck, withers and ventrum.
Horse flies are larger and usually darker than house flies, and have larger eyes. Females after feeding lay their eggs on stems or leaves of vegetation overhanging water. Adults are vicious biting blood suckers most prevalent in summer on hot days. When the fly stops biting it leaves blood on the skin, which in turn attracts various non-biting flies.
Stable during the day and use fly sheets.
Horse flies have been linked to Equine Infectious Anemia. Supplement with sulfur. A lack of copper has also been noted in EIA. Add seaweed meal to your horse's diet.
Citrus oil kills horse flies. Feeding diatomaceous earth also assists.
Fly parasites are your best bet for elimination. *Composting manure offers excellent fly control by attacking immature flies in dung.
The essential oil Grapefruit is a good addition before morning feed if your horse is stabled often to avoid horse flies. It is also known to lift their spirits and even help with digestion.
HHH: Avoid accumulation of vegetable refuse, weed heaps and grass cuttings to discourage stable flies (& mites).
After a daytime blood meal the fly rests on the barn wall or fence. Eggs are laid in wet straw, manure or bedding. Louse flies ("forest flies" or "keds") deposit larvae in dry soil or humus (sheltered spots) and are most numerous in sunny weather. The adults cluster and suck blood; stay on hosts for long periods and are not easily disturbed. Nematode parasites live freely in damp soil and organic matter and may cause dermatitis. Under a filthy, moist environment the larvae can invade the skin of the horse and show signs of pustules, ulcers, scales, etc., on the flank, neck, ventral thorax and abdomen. You must remove the source, wash and spray the area to eradicate.
HHH: Equine anemia can be caused with a heavy horn fly burden.
Each fly feeds 20-30 times a day, and are greatest in population during the summer. These strong flying blood sucking insects spend their whole life on the host! After feeding, females leave the host to lay eggs in fresh cow manure.
HHH: Ventral Midline Dermatitis is caused by bites from horn flies (& a specific gnat species).
In season (spring to fall), horn flies affect horses 4 and older. Topical issues consist of ulcers, crusts, and alopecia on the ventral midline; leukoderma is commonly seen with some itchiness and hypersensitivity. Horn fly eggs laid in horse manure will not develop.
Options: Daily application is effective because the adult horn fly rarely leaves its host.
Try gentle cleansing followed by Aloe Vera Ointment/Gel.
HHH: Clean cuts to avoid oozing and cover them to avoid flies feeding from wounds.
Face flies (& a number of other non biting flies) feed from wounds; on secretions from nose, mouth and eye, or in blood. Eggs are laid on freshly deposited cow manure. Blowfly strikes are common; seasonal late spring, early summer or fall; and adults lay light-yellow eggs in clusters (up to 3,000) in wounds, or carcasses. If any feces are on your horse's skin or tail blowflies will infest the perineum.
Options: Fly masks help, but may chafe your horse; they also get muddy, torn, and eventually lost!
Removal of cow manure breaks the life cycle of horn flies and face flies.
HHH: Bee and wasp venom contain proteins and peptides that create painful inflammation followed by a wheal or plaque at the site.
Honeybees leave a stinger and venom sac at the site whereas all others can sting multiple times by retracting their stinger. It takes about 48 hours for the peak of inflammation. Don't threaten bees or wasps unnecessarily; they will sting! Bumble, honey, and carpenter bees don't pose a threat. Several wasp species are very beneficial therefore don't destroy them unless it's necessary.
Options: Citrus oil and or soapy water help control bees and wasps. Apply after dusk when bees have gone back underground.
Hot peppers made into a spray repel bees.
HHH: Warbles and grubs are more common when younger, poor-condition horses graze near cattle.
They occur in summer by fixing their eggs to the hairs of horses in the leg area. Some eggs singly, others six or more in a row, hatching in 4 days, crawling down the hair and penetrating the skin.
HHH: Look for screw worms near wire cuts and tick-bite lesions; even near the navel of newborns!
Screw worm larvae cause a very serious disease. They prefer rainy weather in spring, early summer/fall. Adults deposit clusters of eggs around the edge of a wound and also near openings such as the nose and even prepuce; not on carcasses. Larvae burrow into living tissue. Severe infections are common and death can occur.
HHH: Equine summer sores, usually on the chest or underside of the stomach, are created by flies continually biting on a particular spot.
Helminths (worms) cause itching and scabbing if left untreated; and may result in scarring.
Options: Aloe Vera gel, calendula and tea tree oil are topical supports!
HHH: Intermediate hosts such as the common housefly and stable fly deposit infectious larvae on a horse.
Only 1 horse may be affected with summer sores (swamp cancer); & re-occurrence is common each summer. Seasonal/sporadic nematode adults inhabit a horse's stomach; eggs are passed through feces and are ingested by maggots who feed on moist areas and open wounds. Larvae are able to penetrate intact skin! Larvae near the mouth are swallowed hence completing their life cycle in the stomach. Other larvae near the nose migrate to the lungs. Lesions are common on legs, ventrum, prepuce, urethral process of penis and have been seen on the eyelid.
HHH: Equine parafilariasis (summer bleeding) is caused by adult worms that live in connective tissue.
Seasonal (spring/summer) nodules (on neck, shoulders and trunk) open and discharge blood containing eggs and larvae. Various flies serve as hosts. The disease is known to reoccur for 3-4 years. Pinworms or threadworms (oxyuriasis) are the source of "seat-itch"; although there may not be any dermatological signs.
HHH: Common poultry lice will feed on horses. Most obvious in winter, extreme itchiness such as tail rubbing is apparent.
Lice find favorable conditions under the tail head of sweating horses, also on the mane and fetlock. Treatment includes bathing and also pyrethins and sulfur. Artificial fertilizers have shown to inhibit the uptake of sulfur that might otherwise be found in grains. Garlic is high in sulfur compounds (esp. allicin and alliin) and organically grown bran is another main source of sulfur..
Options: Shampoo with wild geranium as the base for treatment against lice.
Lice (& other exterior parasites) have been linked to sulfur deficiency. Try putting sulfur directly down the backline of the infected horse, or use 1 heaped teaspoon of sulfur for 3-5 days straight; or give 1 tablespoon daily for about 1 week.
Add freshly grated raw garlic (2-3 cloves; never large continuous amounts) to your horse's regular diet.
HHH: Foals and ill animals are more susceptible to fleas.
Not often recognized with horses, fleas have been known to transmit tapeworms and may lead to anemia. They prefer dark, moist, humid, dirty areas and die in extreme cold.
Options: Strip bedding and treat the area.
Remove loose boards or lumber from the barn that attracts fleas.
Brush your horse regularly to remove adult fleas, treat with citrus or tea tree sprays, wash regularly.
Diatomaceous earth is used as a natural flea control; the trick is to control the eggs and larvae.
Add garlic to the horse's feed to repel fleas.
There are beneficial nematodes that provide important control of fleas (& ticks).
HHH: If you stable under a hay loft or birds' nests, take note as mites fall on your horses, causing top line disease.
The greatest infestation of mites is late winter/early spring; as shown by extreme itchiness, tail rubbing of sweating horses. EPM has been linked to mites in hay. Mites feed in the top layer of soil, but during the day migrate up blades of grass. Parasitic mites cause mange, which is common on the hoof.
Options: Avoid prolonged stabling and crowding, as well as inferior nutrition.
Treat all horses that are in contact with an infected horse.
Stop itching with aloe vera. (Call 1-800-232-2563 Horse Magic, make a spray with the organic distillate or apply their gel); can add comfrey to the solution as well.
Flowing plants, especially those rich in essential oils help eliminate mites. (Ex. fragrant herbs; mint)
Jojoba is great for mites; basically they can't get air and smother!
Check out www.NaturesBalanceCare.com or call 866-821-0374.
Bare Skin Barrier (ingredients- grape seed, jojoba, citronella, lemon grass, lavender and tea tree) and Groomer, a broad spectrum concentrate (citronella, lemon grass, eucalyptus, lavender, tea tree, peppermint and jojoba).
Flowing plants, especially those rich in essential oils help eliminate mites. (Ex. fragrant herbs; mint)
CLEAN Tack, to include brushes, because they can transfer non-burrowing mites.
Tea tree oil alone or with aloe gel is great for mange.
Topical vitamin E oil has been used to coat the insides of the ear flap from mites (gnats and flies). You can cut it with little a mineral oil to minimize the sticky texture.
HHH: Infested fields and woods readily house chiggers although pastures and even stalls can be infested.
Chiggers, also called heel bugs and scrub itch mites, may lead to grain itch and straw itch.
Options: Broadcast diatomaceous earth or dust with sulfur (1,000 ft. needs about 5 lbs) for chigger control. Horsemint or lemon mint (Monarda citriodora) is a great chigger repellent.
HHH: Equine Infectious Anemia and Lyme are among the tick carrying diseases.
Ticks are most common in spring and summer and may be hard or soft. They harm by bites; sucking blood and may even cause paralysis and, in some severe cases, coma and death. A tick fixes itself firmly by inserting its mouth parts into the skin and may go unnoticed for long periods! They lay 1,000-6,000 eggs and some adults can live for over a year without a meal! They prefer to live 4-5 feet above the ground and in tall grass and weeds.
Options: Vitamin C
Individually remove (using tweezers-never fingers) all of the tick from the horse, careful not to break off mouthparts. Try smothering the tick with hydrogen peroxide and it should let go. Clean the tick bite area.
Pasture burn, and use steel wool to fill barn cracks which harbor ticks.
Tea tree oil is known to kill ticks and forces them to let go.
Plant a Myrtle bush (hang branches in the stall, or add leaves to bedding) to repel ticks. If you rub it on your horse's coat you'll not only deter ticks, but leave a nice shiny coat!
Horses love to eat the leaves of fresh peppermint and it can repel ticks.
Garlic flower essence can be helpful to repel ticks.
Dust paddocks with lime minerals.
Spray areas with citrus oil. You can make your own using finely chopped citrus skins simmered (at least 15 minutes) then cooled.
Dust the barn area with diatomaceous earth as well as wood piles and other tick susceptible areas.
Wood piles should be maintained away from the barn, and eliminate loose boards and debris.
There are beneficial nematodes which provide important control of ticks (& fleas).
HHH: An allergic equine spider bite may include heat and swelling around the bite area, trembling, sweating, and pale gums..
Spiders hide during the day and hunt insects often on floors and walls at night. In the rare case of a spider bite you may see dead skin, watery & swollen skin on the horse. A bite on the neck might cause asphyxiation. Black widows and Brown recluse spiders are the only dangerous and poisonous spiders. Learn to identify them..
Options: A local cold pack should do the trick.
Add aloe or even tea tree if necessary.
Ledum (homeopathic) is specific for spider bites.
Vitamin C (by mouth or injection) has been used until swelling subsides.
There is currently no anti-venom for this bite although medical evidence exists using an electric shock treatment to neutralize the toxin of this and other poisonous bites.
HHH: Clean your tack and your horses regularly.
Make your own natural cleanser with aloe vera, nettle (good chlorophyll content to remove toxins), myrrh gum (antibacterial, mildly anti-inflammatory), hypericum and calendula tinctures to encourage healing if irritation exists.
HHH: Create a wash area for your horses.
Possum Corner Products, Inc., Crosby, Mississippi (patent pending) offers Wash Wrack, a simple, economical and effective setup. Check out www.possumcorner.com or call 601-639-4551.
HHH: Use a natural body wash.
Try EZall's Total body wash and Multi purpose cleaner. Their plant based product doesn't pollute groundwater supplies.
HOMEOPATHICS Specific for Bites and Stings
1. Apis mellificia is made from the bee and is great for treating stings; especially if swelling (hot to the touch) occurs (relief is heightened when something cold is also applied.)
2. Cantharis made from the blister beetle this one is good if redness or blistering is associated with the bite/sting.
3 Ledum palustre is a puncture wound remedy; great when swelling extends away from the sting site and also if a bluish color exists at the site, add hypericum. Ledum 30C or X can be given following a vaccine injection or if there is a reaction after a vaccine.
4. Hypericum (St. John's Wort). Include if pain is also present with a bite or sting.
5. Vespa is made from the wasp and is helpful with stings around the head and eye where swelling (to include fluid) occurs.
6. Urtica urens, from the stinging nettle plant; great for hives or red blotchy itchy, burning stings.
7. Lachesic is used for bite wounds.
For additonal information, please visit the National Center for Homeopathy (Alexandria, VA) website at www.homeopathic.org .
Read more about Natural Dermatological Parasite Controls