Irritated Horse Ears

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Horse ears

Q: My 3-year-old filly has recently become very sensitive around her ears. There is a sheet of white scabs on the inside of each ear. What is this, and why is it causing her pain? Is there anything that can be done to get rid of it?

A: The inside of the ear is a target for many biting flies, most notably midges or black flies. For some horses, the hair in the ears protects against insect invasion; for others, the hair provides a nest for the insects to hide in. There, they feed on the sensitive skin, causing inflammation, and often bleeding. Some horses are allergic to the fly saliva and form a white, scaly plaque on the inside of the ear. This is merely a sign of the irritation that is probably the reason behind your horse’s recent ear-shy behavior.

Roll-on insecticides help to deter the flies. Better yet, the fly masks that include ear netting keep them out altogether. Providing a barrier to the flies enables your horse’s ears to heal. You may need to treat with a topical corticosteroid cream to improve your horse’s comfort in the meantime.

If the hair inside the ear makes it difficult to treat topically, it helps to clip this hair away. Be sure to put cotton in your horse’s ears before doing this so clipped hairs don’t fall into the ear canals.

Be aware that other skin syndromes can develop within this area. Problems such as sarcoids (benign tumors) or warts should be ruled out by your veterinarian before you begin any topical medication.

Liked this article? Here are others you’ll enjoy:
Question of the Week: Untouchable Ears
Equine Skin Problems

NANCY S. LOVING, DVM, is a performance horse veterinarian based in Boulder, Colo., and is the author of All Horse Systems Go.


This article originally appeared in the August 2014 issue of Horse Illustrated magazine. Click here to subscribe!

5 COMMENTS

  1. I have a pony that has the same problem. I live in south Ga and the gnats are terrible. I have tried putting Vaseline in the ears. It is greasy but it seems to help deter the gnats or whatever irratates the inside of her ears.

  2. I noticed this earlier with my horse a few days ago. There were tons of little midges stuck in the hair in his ears and they were driving him mad.

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