Insects can cause great distress and irritation to donkeys. We offer advice to help you keep your donkeys safe from flies and midges.

To do this you need to know which insects your donkeys are susceptible to and which insects are likely to be living in their environment.

Insects tend to be a seasonal problem in the UK, where they are not usually seen during the winter months. However, in some countries they can be a year-round problem.

Prevention is the best solution, which is why the location of stables, field shelters and the management of grazing times are important factors in reducing insect problems. The use of fly repellents is only part of the solution and before purchasing and applying any chemical, herbal repellent or treatment to affected animals it is advisable to consult with your vet first.

Protecting from flies

  • Remove manure frequently from grazing paddocks and the stable
  • Keep the stable environment clean . Wash and disinfect the stable walls regularly, remove unwanted feedstuff and clean water troughs
  • Provide a field shelter to offer protection during turnout, and to allow rest and refuge from the sun. Try to locate shelters in a shady and breezy location
  • Muck heaps should be positioned as far away from stables as possible
  • Try using fans in hot weather. The movement of air is unfavourable to flies.
  • Summer sheets or fly rugs can help alleviate irritation by preventing the flies from landing on a donkey’s coat
  • Use fly fringes or masks that can be worn while the donkey is grazing. The masks are also a useful way to prevent sunburn in pale skinned donkeys.
  • Think about using leg protection if your donkey is at risk of skin damage because of stable flies

Fly repellent for donkeys

There are many chemical or herbal fly repellents available. Before using these repellents please consult your vet and always read and follow the instructions. It is wise to perform an allergy test first to ensure there is not a reaction to the product.

Chemical repellents normally contain substances like Diethyl-eta-toluamide (DEET) or pyrethroids. There is scientific evidence to support the use of these products as an effective way of deterring flies. Herbal repellents should be used with caution as there is no current scientific evidence that they work on repelling insects. Garlic is often cited for use as a fly repellent as the smell is thought to repel insects, however, there is no scientific evidence to support these claims and recent research suggests that feeding garlic regularly may be harmful to equines.

Most repellents come in a spray form which is easier to apply than a cream. However, if a donkey is nervous of the spray then creams can be more easily applied or a sponge can be used to apply the spray rather than direct application to the donkey. Chemical preparations will need to be applied morning and evening, as these are the worst times of day for insect problems. They should be reapplied at regular intervals to maintain their effectiveness throughout the day. When applying preventative repellents (whether chemical or herbal) try to start using them before the fly/midge season, as prevention is better than a cure.

Fly repellents occasionally cause an adverse or allergic reaction. Before applying a product, test it on a 5 cm patch of your donkey’s skin and wait 24 hours. If your donkey’s skin does not react, then it should be safe to apply.

Protecting from midges

Preventing irritation by midges is like that of other flies, but there are some extra points to note. These are especially important if your donkey is prone to sweet itch:

  • Stable your donkeys at dusk and dawn when midges are more prevalent
  • If possible, keep your donkey in a location where there are less midges, avoiding marshy, boggy fields
  • Keep donkeys on more exposed, windy sites (eg hillsides or near the coast)
  • Chalk-based grassland will have fewer midges than clay-based grassland as it consists of free draining soil
  • As well as using fly sheets, there are specific rugs and hoods available for sweet itch. These rugs cover the whole body, abdomen, head and neck. They are designed to be strong, tear proof and highly breathable to prevent over-heating in the summer period
  • Strips of overlapping transparent plastic placed in front of windows and doors can be useful in preventing midges from entering the stable, but make sure you introduce these strips gradually to let your donkey become accustomed to them.

Why are midges a particular problem for donkeys?

The Culicoides midge is responsible for a common skin condition known as ‘sweet itch’. This condition affects certain donkeys who are ‘hypersensitive’ (allergic) to the midge’s saliva.

Midge bites cause the donkey’s skin to constantly itch and can cause distress. The donkey will rub excessively on the areas that are most affected, especially the mane and tail. These areas often bleed and so attract more insects.


Insecticides are chemicals that can kill insects when they bite. They are more frequently used against lice than flies or midges.

Your vet may recommend the use of an insecticide (such as cypermethrin or permethrin) if insects become a problem for your donkey. However, certain insecticides can cause nasty skin reactions and some insects have resistance against them, which means they won’t work. Always follow your vet’s instructions when using insecticides

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Information for donkey owners