Horse Side Vet Guide ®

Equine Health Resource

Biting at Side or Body

Code Red - Call Your Vet Immediately, Even Outside Business Hours

Code Orange - Call Your Vet at Their First Available Office Hours

Code Green - Contact Your Vet to Obtain Useful Advice & Resources

Code Red - Call Your Vet Immediately, Even Outside Business Hours

  • If you are convinced this is a sign of colic (abdominal pain).
  • If you notice signs of colic, along with this sign.
  • If the behavior seems extreme, or the horse seems to be in distress.

Code Orange - Call Your Vet at Their First Available Office Hours

  • If the behavior continues but the horse has good appetite, attitude and shows no other signs of colic.

Code Green - Contact Your Vet to Obtain Useful Advice & Resources

  • If this seems mild or occasional and the horse seems normal otherwise.

This observation is seen under several circumstances. Horses that have itchy or irritated skin (a common cause is insect hypersensitivity or irritation) will often nip and bite at the affected area. Horses in abdominal pain (colic) often look at their sides (flanks) and sometimes will bite their skin there.

Rare behavioral syndromes that involve self-trauma and self-mutilation also may cause this behavior to occur. Horses affected by these syndromes can bite viciously at themselves, causing severe wounding. There usually is a history of other behavioral abnormalities occurring along with this behavior.

WHAT TO DO

Assess your horse’s general health using the Whole Horse Exam (WHE). Inspect the sheath, udder and lower belly for signs of swelling, hair loss, scaling or scabbing. Look carefully at the rest of the horse for hives, which would suggest an allergic problem. Check the area carefully for insects, which tend to cause irritation.

Consider whether anything has changed in the environment. For example, have you applied something topically or changed feed or bedding? If you suspect the cause is irritation or allergy (flies, midges or mosquitos), try to solve the problem with mild insect repellents and management changes.

If this behavior continues or worsens despite your efforts, or your horse is exhibiting other signs of illness or abnormalities, contact your vet with your findings and concerns.

WHAT YOUR VET DOES

Your vet carefully evaluates the nature of the behavior and focuses on the area that the horse is biting at, looking for the factors discussed above. If there does not seem to be an irritant causing the behavior, vets rule out less common reasons for it using diagnostic tests.

Author: Doug Thal DVM Dipl. ABVP

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