Insects are in abundance throughout the year and 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 what insects your donkeys are susceptible to and what insects are likely to be living in their environment.

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.

Preventing flies

  • Remove manure frequently from grazing paddocks and the stable
  • Keep the stable environment clean - wash and disinfect the stable walls on a weekly basis, remove unwanted feed stuff and clean water troughs
  • Provide a field shelter - this will offer protection while the donkeys are in a paddock, they can rest and take 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
  • Use fly strips or traps in the stable, remember to hang well out of reach of the donkeys
  • 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.

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. DEET has a track record with effective results in animal and human use. 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.

Preventing midges

  • Location of where your donkeys are kept is important – avoid 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
  • Keep muck heaps and old feedstuffs away from your stable and pasture
  • Stable your donkeys at dusk and dawn when midges are more prevalent
  • 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.

Midge repellent

Fly repellents and DEET can help with the symptoms, but you need to take veterinary advice before applying any type of repellent, especially for the control of Sweet Itch. The chemical Benzyl Benzoate has been used for many years in the treatment of Sweet Itch. The liquid should be worked into the affected skin, but not be applied to broken skin. Gloves should be worn when applying this chemical and should not be applied by anyone who suffers with a perfume allergy.

There are oil-based formulations available that can help deter midge attacks. Midges dislike contact with oil and tend to avoid landing on the substance. Oils tend to have a limited time period as they do not stay on the coat for long. Reapplication 2-3 times a day may be necessary. Greases are available which tend to last longer and are normally based on oil formulations. They can be messy and tricky to apply, but are effective on small areas of Sweet Itch. Soothing creams can bring relief to the itching, but they do not deter further midge attacks. It might also be beneficial to give your donkeys a soothing bath once a week, weather permitting, with a suitable shampoo available from your vet. As with the fly repellents, there is no scientific evidence, as of yet, as to the effectiveness of herbal treatments.

Ticks

Ticks are parasites that bite and feed on the blood of its host before falling off to complete their lifecycle. Ticks tend to be common in areas with long grass and bracken such as the New Forest and moorland. Although the tick bite itself rarely causes more than local irritation ticks are a problem due to their ability to pass on infectious disease to equines and other mammals. The most well known of these is Lyme Disease which can cause severe illness in mammals including donkeys, horses and humans.

It is important to be vigilant and check your donkeys over for ticks in spring, summer and autumn, particularly when they are grazing in high risk areas with long grass cover. Common areas for attachment are in between the back legs, under the tail and in the ears. If ticks are found they must be carefully removed so that the tick mouth part is not left behind. Special tick removers are perfect for the job. Traditional methods of tick removal including burning, squeezing or smothering in Vaseline should be avoided as they increase the risk of the tick regurgitating its stomach contents into the animal thereby increasing the risk of infection.

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Information for donkey owners