The equine ear is a key component of the way your horse identifies danger, communicates with his herd and projects information to his rider. From an owner’s perspective, ears impart information about our horse’s temperament and stress level, and where his attention is at any moment. Given such usefulness, it’s no surprise that head shaking and ear sensitivity are common concerns for many horse owners. Issues can be caused by something as simple as flies, or they can stem from such complex problems that we never identify the underlying cause. But for today, let’s focus on the simple one.
Ear sensitivity due to insects is a common cause of head shaking this time of year. Flies or small gnats can often go unnoticed but can be a significant irritant to the horse. If you notice more head shaking than normal, check the ears for the flies themselves, as well as any dark crusts (dried blood) or clear serum on the inner surface of the ear, or the pinna.
Caring for your horse’s ears
Your horse could be the cool kid in the pasture.
Typically the sensitivity of the ears can be improved or eliminated with relatively simple management changes. The use of fly repellent ointments (SWAT) on the ears can be helpful. However, caution must be used to keep ointments from the deeper structures of the ears, where ointments can cause harm.
Certainly the most effective tool to prevent fly irritation is a full face fly mask that incorporates the ears. These will eliminate most fly ear issues, though your horse may be embarrassed by his comical appearance. (Good thing there are so many stylish masks available now!) These bring the additional benefit of simultaneously protecting the eyes from similar irritants.
Occasionally, medications such as disinfectant wipes and antibiotic/steroid creams are needed to decrease the itching and serum weeping covering the inner surface of the pinna, but again, caution must be used to keep these ointments from the deeper structures of the ears.
What tools or home remedies have you used to keep your horse’s ears protected? Let us know in the comments!
By Howard Ketover, DVM