Gnats, Flies, Ants, Oh My! Presented by Banixx Horse Care

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Fat legs. Photo credit Shellie Sommerson

Summer rains bring more than green grass. They bring bugs. Gnats. Flies. Mosquitos. Ticks. In the southeastern part of the U.S., we have the added curse of fire ants! And your poor horse is the meal for those bugs. Not only do they drink his blood, they cause allergic reactions, swelling, heat and discomfort. And those little tiny bites can get infected. Of course, some horses even injure themselves scratching on objects and biting at themselves due to the itching. Gee isn’t this fun?!

Here’s some help! Below you’ll find temperatures and conditions when certain bugs are most active, and smells that can be used to repel them:

Gnats thrive when the temperature is around 75 to 80 degrees Fahrenheit and seem to favor warmer temperatures with high humidity. They can survive almost any temperature above freezing. They are most active mid-morning and dusk. The smell gnats hate is the smell of vanilla.

Mosquitos seem to prefer about 80 degrees Fahrenheit and get lethargic when the temperature drops below 60. They are most are active at night, dusk, and dawn, but some are active during the day. Mosquitos hate the smell of citronella.

Flies like the temperature above 68 degrees Fahrenheit and usually favor low humidity (this summer they seem to love high humidity – at least in North Carolina they are thriving in high humidity). They are most active around 9 – 11 am then again from 4 – 7 pm. And flies are very active just before storms and on humid, cloudy days.  Lemon grass, lavender, eucalyptus, and peppermint are deterrents for flies.

Ticks are into temperatures above 45 Fahrenheit. There are many different types of ticks and they can vary on their climate preferences. Black-legged ticks, the type that transmit Lyme disease do not like hot and dry, so keeping the grass as short as possible reduces the shade that the ticks like.  Ticks do not like the smell of peppermint, lavender, rose geranium, cinnamon, lemon, and orange.

Fire Ants prefer sunny and warm conditions and are usually found in fields. All ants, including fire ants, aerate the soil and eat other insects, including mites and ticks – so they are good (until you or your horse get bitten by them of course). Ants do not like to walk across powdery substances. A non-chemical remedy is to sprinkle cayenne pepper around the mound, which keeps them from escaping, then pour cayenne water into the mound. This procedure should be done at each mound as ants have enormous underground structures of chambers and tunnels. The mound is just the top of the underground structure.

An example of an OTTB recovering from fire ant bites with the help of Banixx. Photo by Jane at Banixx.

How to guard your horse against bugs:

Some people swear by flysheets, fly boots, fly masks, bringing the horse in at night or before dusk. Most fly/bug spray does not have the staying power/ability to last for hours. And all that seems to vary regarding effectiveness. Ichthammol, although messy and disgusting, is about the only deterrent that seems to stay on (except in extreme heat). Swipe a bit on your thumb and apply it to your horse’s ears, swipe some on his underline, etc. Climate, location, weather conditions and your horse’s living options are going to dictate some of what you can and cannot do to help your horse avoid being the main course for bugs.

One horse I care for wears a fly sheet, gets allergy shots and is in a stall with fans when the temperature is over 85 F and he still manages to rub the skin off his face occasionally. Another horse appeared to have millions of bites on his front legs and belly. His front legs were swollen/filled and were hot to the touch. With treatment and fly boots he is doing well; the fly boots seem to be keeping the bugs from biting him. This horse did require veterinarian care to get rid of the heat and inflammation.

How to treat extensive bites:

What to do if your horse becomes the victim? If the legs are blown up and/or hot, or your horse seems in any sort of distress – call you veterinarian immediately. The necessity of medication – pain relievers and antihistamines may be in order. Also, infections, like Cellulitis can set in, and some horses unfortunately, tumble into laminitis, so it is really important to consult with your veterinarian.

To help your horse heal from these nasty bites on the outside, your go-to should be Banixx! When you first discover the horrible bites, do not pick off scabs or start scrubbing as those actions will cause more irritation and open all those little spots to outside predators such as flies.

The first day of the bites your horse is going to be sore, so something soothing that is going to start fighting infection is the best approach. All those little bites are “openings” to your horse’s skin and once bacteria enters it can continue into the subcutaneous layers causing full blown cellulitis. Stopping the bacteria and infection is an especially important treatment step.

Spray Banixx Horse & Pet Care Spray all over the affected area and gently massage it in with your hands, in the direction of the hair growth, not against. So, no rubbing or scrubbing, just massage/wipe with your hands to help saturate the hair and tissue. Repeat this twice a day until all those little bumps (bites) are gone.

Banixx Wound Care Cream can be used in the same way – gently massage into the affected area. The Wound Care Cream is highly effective on the belly or mid-line as it sticks well to the areas it is applied. As an added bonus, Banixx Wound Care Cream contains oil of peppermint and eucalyptus, and both ingredients are not favored by flies!

Additionally, on about days 2, 4 and 6 wash, gently, with Banixx Medicated Shampoo. Wet the areas with the bites (bumps, etc.) and apply Banixx Medicated Shampoo and let that sit for 10 to 15 minutes. The 4% Chlorhexidine will help clean and kill bacteria/infection without harming healthy tissues. It will not burn or irritate either. The marine collagen helps rejuvenate tissues and promote healthy tissue growth. After about 7 to 10 days your horse’s skin should be back to normal, depending upon the severity. If very minor, then the healing process will take less; however, the cases I am seeing this summer are not minor.

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“Debris” from gnat bites – Gently massage Banixx Horse & Pet Care Spray on the bites. Photo credit Shellie Sommerson

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