Protecting Horses From Horse and Deer Fly Bites

Horse and deer flies are a menace to horses, causing significant discomfort and potential health problems. These flies are known for their painful bites and incessant buzzing, which can lead to stress and anxiety in horses. Additionally, these flies are vectors for various diseases, making it crucial for horse owners to take preventive measures to protect their equine friends. This article will explore practical ways to protect horses from horse and deer fly bites.

Understanding Horse and Deer Flies

Horse flies (scientifically known as Tabanidae), and deer flies (scientifically known as Chrysopsidae) are blood-sucking insects that belong to the same family. They are commonly found in areas with abundant vegetation, such as forests, meadows, and near bodies of water. These flies are most active during the warmer months, typically from late spring to early autumn.

Horse and deer flies are easily distinguishable by their size and appearance. Horse flies are more significant and bulkier, measuring up to an inch long. They have stout bodies, large compound eyes, and transparent wings. Deer flies, however, are smaller, measuring around half an inch in length. They have a more slender body and brightly colored eyes.

Both horse and deer flies feed on the blood of vertebrates to nourish their eggs. Female flies are responsible for the painful bites, requiring a blood meal to produce viable eggs. Male flies, on the other hand, feed on nectar and plant juices and do not bite.

The Dangers of Horse and Deer Fly Bites

Horse and deer fly bites cause immediate pain and discomfort to horses and can lead to potential health issues. The edges can result in allergic reactions, causing horses to develop welts, swelling, and severe itching. Horses with sensitive skin may develop painful sores and secondary infections from excessive scratching.

Furthermore, horse and deer flies are known carriers of various diseases, including Equine Infectious Anemia (EIA) and African Horse Sickness (AHS). These diseases can have severe consequences for horses, with symptoms ranging from mild fever and fatigue to anemia and even death in extreme cases.

1. Stable and Barn Management

Stable and barn management is crucial in preventing horse and deer fly infestations. Keeping the stable and barn area clean and well-maintained can create an environment less conducive for these pests.

Regularly remove manure and decaying matter: Flies breed in damp organic matter like manure. Frequent removal of waste and promptly disposing of it can significantly reduce fly populations in the area.

Maintain clean water sources: Flies require water for breeding, so it’s essential to eliminate any stagnant water sources near the stable or barn: Regularly clean water troughs, buckets, and containers to prevent fly reproduction.

Keep the stable clean and dry: Moisture attracts flies. Regularly clean and disinfect stalls, ensuring proper drainage to avoid standing water. Use appropriate bedding materials that do not retain excess moisture.

Install fly screens and traps: Install fine mesh screens on windows, doors, and vents to prevent flies from entering the stable or barn. Additionally, consider using strategically placed insect traps or sticky tapes to catch flies.

Manually kill flies: When flies are present, handheld fly swatters or electric bug zappers can help control their numbers.

2. Fly Control Measures for Horses

Implementing fly control measures directly on horses is crucial for protecting them from horse and deer fly bites. Here are some effective methods:

Use fly-repellent sprays: Apply fly-repellent sprays or wipes formulated explicitly for horses. These products contain active ingredients like permethrin or pyrethrin, which repel flies. Please follow the instructions for application, and apply as needed.

Apply fly-repellent ointments: Ointments provide a longer-lasting barrier against flies. Apply these products to areas where flies commonly bite, such as the ears, belly, and lower legs.

Use fly masks and sheets: Fly masks with attached nose covers protect horses’ faces, ears, and eyes from pesky flies. Additionally, lightweight fly sheets can provide overall protection to horses, acting as a physical barrier against flies.

Consider fly boots or leg wraps: Flies are beautiful to horses’ lower legs. Fly boots or leg wraps provide coverage and protection, preventing flies from biting the sensitive skin in these areas.

Provide shade and shelter: Horses need access to shade and shelter, especially during peak fly activity times. Providing protection helps horses avoid direct exposure to flies and minimizes their bites.

Use fly-repellent feed supplements: Some feed supplements contain ingredients like garlic or apple cider vinegar, believed to help repel flies when ingested by horses. Consult with a veterinarian before introducing any supplements to your horse’s diet.

3. Environmental Fly Control Methods

In addition to stable and horse-specific measures, implementing environmental fly control methods can reduce horse and deer fly populations. These methods target the flies’ breeding areas and decrease their overall presence in the vicinity.

Manage vegetation: Keep the grass, weeds, and shrubs near the stable or barn well-trimmed. Reduced vegetation limits fly breeding sites and make the area less attractive to flies.

Use fly predators: Fly predators are tiny, non-stinging wasps that target and parasitize fly larvae. When released in appropriate numbers, these beneficial insects can significantly reduce horse and deer fly populations.

Consider insecticides: In some cases, using insecticides may be necessary to control fly populations. However, it’s essential to choose products specifically designed for fly control in horses and carefully follow the instructions for application to minimize any potential risks.

Install fans: Flies are not strong fliers and dislike breezy environments. Installing fans in the stable or barn can help create airflow, making it less enticing for flies to settle.


Protecting horses from horse and deer fly bites is crucial for their well-being, as these pests can cause significant discomfort and transmit diseases. Horse owners can significantly reduce the risk of fly bites by implementing proper stable and barn management practices, using horse-specific fly control measures, and employing environmental fly control methods. Please monitor horses and their surroundings as soon as possible to ensure they respond quickly in case of any signs of fly infestations. Remember, a happy and healthy horse is a fly-free horse!

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