What you see. The starting point for addressing any equine health related issue is your observation.


Biting at Upper Front Limbs, Forearms or Chest


This frequently occurs as a result of skin irritation due to a wound, insect hypersensitivity or allergies. Stable flies cause skin irritation often resulting in hair loss and crusting, especially on the chest. Bots flies lay their eggs in these areas too, causing skin irritation.

In rare cases, this behavior is part of a behavioral syndrome that result in self-trauma or self-mutilation. As with other stereotypical behavior, this is most common in horses that are housed alone and with little exercise. Horses affected by these syndromes can bite viciously at themselves, causing severe wounding.

  • Code Orange

    Call Your Vet at Their First Available Office Hours
    • If the behavior seems extreme, or the horse seems to be in distress.
  • Code Yellow

    Contact Your Vet at Your Convenience for an Appointment
    • If this seems mild or occasional and the horse seems normal otherwise.
You also might be observing
Very Common
Less Common
more observations

your role


What To Do

Assess your horse's general health using the Whole Horse Exam (WHE), paying particular attention to the affected areas and the environment. Could this behavior be caused by insects, allergies or any other environmental cause?

What does the affected area look like? Is there a wound, is it growing in size, draining, swollen, scaling or scabbing or painful? Are there bumps? Do you notice other behavioral abnormalities that suggest a primary behavioral problem?

Share your findings and concerns with your vet.

What Not To Do

Do not use harsh chemicals to treat your horse. These products may aggravate itchiness and lead to greater injury.

your vet's role

They will assess the horse's general health and carefully examine the area and the behavior in order to determine the cause. Treatment will involve treating and alleviating the underlying cause of the irritation. In primary behavioral disorders, changes in management and protection of the injured area may be needed.
Questions Your Vet Might Ask:
  • What is the horse's age, sex, breed and history?
  • When did you first notice the behavior?
  • Are there white specks on the hair of the forearms (bot eggs)?
  • Is there a wound in the area?
  • Are flies bothering the horse?
  • Have there been large numbers of flies?
  • Is there any drainage?
  • Do you notice many small skin bumps over the body (hives)?
  • Do you notice other behavioral changes?
  • Do you see any swelling or any other abnormality?

Diagnoses Your Vet May Consider

The cause of the problem. These are conditions or ailments that are the cause of the observations you make.

Very Common
Less Common
more diagnoses

Author: Doug Thal DVM Dipl. ABVP