Flies and Dogs: Which Flies Are Attracted to Dogs — Why

Flies and Dogs

Biting flies make themselves at home on farms, stables and other environments where livestock and animals are present. These flies breed in manure or decaying grain feed and may also consume the blood of small animals such as dogs.

While most fly bites are relatively harmless to dogs, high populations may result in multiple bites that could severely irritate a dog’s skin. A group of flies that might bite dogs are known as horse or deer flies. Some of the largest flies in the world, horse flies are common throughout North America and produce extremely painful bites. The horse fly’s mouthparts account for their painful bite—while many small insects use a piercing proboscis to feed on the blood of other animals, the horse fly is equipped with a scissorlike pair of mandibles. However, the irritation caused by the bite of a horse fly is not lasting.

Female horse flies feed on blood, while males seek nectar and sugary liquids. Horse flies tend to be active in warmer temperatures. Although constant breezes discourage biting flies, horse flies are relatively resilient against strong air currents due to their size.


Home Remedy to Keep Flies Off Dogs

Flies like to bite dogs. They usually target the ears, but they sometimes go for blood on other parts of a canine’s body. If flies bother your dog, avoid outdoor activities and try a homemade repellent.


Try a fly spray made with an ounce of citronella oil and cider vinegar. Add a cup of water and one leaf each of basil and bay.


Use a mixture of baby oil and permoxin in equal parts to create an ointment. This heals bites and prevents additional biting. Store it in a clean jar and use it during fly season. It will stay fresh for a few months. Make a new batch for next season.

Put a mentholated rub on the ears to protect them during fly season. You can also try a Vaseline product.


Fly Bites in Dogs

Most Common Symptoms

Fly Bites Average Cost

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What are Fly Bites?

Flies prey on the dog’s ears and sometimes bridge of their nose for the tender skin here and the inability of the dog to protect this area. In severe infestations, the dogs can develop a secondary infection. The flies may lay their eggs in the open wound they created or any open wound they find. In cases such as this, the dog often has to be anesthetized and the wound cleaned of maggots and dead skin by a veterinarian.

Fly biting often affects dogs that work on farms or live in a primarily outdoor environment. Small breed dogs and cats are rarely affected. Dogs who do not live entirely out of doors are less likely to affected. Dogs with upright ears, who are also most commonly working dogs, such as German Shepherds and Collies are the most afflicted.

Symptoms of Fly Bites in Dogs

If you see flies on or near your pet it is quite likely that fly bites are occurring. To diagnose after the event, the ears especially, the edges will have small red bumps that are dark and crusty and sometimes bleed.

  • Itching
  • Redness on skin
  • Bumps on the skin
  • Bites that may bleed or crust over
  • Bite wounds
  • Presence of flies in the fur


  • Stable fly
  • Horse fly
  • Black fly
  • Mosquitoes
  • Sand flies
  • Biting midges (no-see-ums)

Causes of Fly Bites in Dogs

  • Flies are parasitic and are attracted to warm-blooded mammals for a fresh meal
  • The flies may also choose to lay their eggs in an open wound
  • Matted fecal matter in the dog’s coat may attract flies
  • Unclean kennel areas exacerbate the problem
  • Horse or farm animal stables in close proximity to the dog’s quarters can lead to fly strike

Diagnosis of Fly Bites in Dogs

If you see that your companion is suffering from multiple bites, a veterinarian visit may be warranted. Secondary infection can be a complication with an over abundance of fly bites. In addition, if your pet has open wounds, certain species of flies may cause a botfly infestation or other parasitic infection. Severe infestations, when maggots are present, are known as myiasis or fly strike.

Diagnosis can be made by your veterinarian by inspection of the bite. Most characteristically the ears, especially the edges will be affected. They will appear sore and sometimes crusty with blood.

Treatment of Fly Bites in Dogs

Prevention is the best treatment for fly biting in dogs. Flies are attracted to decaying matter, urine, feces, and standing water. Keeping your pet’s kennel and nearby areas free from leaves, grass clippings, uneaten food, and fecal matter of any kind will help. It is also important to keep your dog well groomed. Regular bathing and if necessary, clipping to rid your dog of matted fur can make a big difference. Bring your dog inside during peak fly times. Better yet, give even working dogs time inside of the home.

If an infestation has occurred but is not too severe, home remedies may be applied. Because of the sensitive nature of the ears, delicate care is needed. Gently clean the affected area with warm water and a mild soap. It is best to keep the dog inside as much as possible while the wounds heal. When the dog is outside protect the ears with a petroleum product. Neosporin is most recommended. Commercial pyrethrin products can be used to deter pests. Some people add an insecticide or deet to the petroleum product that serves as a barrier for future insect bites. You may also consider spraying your dog’s kennel area to further deter pests. A bug zapper will help with most flies except mosquitoes. Fly tape hung high enough to not get tangled in your dog’s fur can aid.

If the infestation is too severe, especially if maggots are present, veterinarian help is needed. Because the procedure is very painful most veterinarians will recommend that the dog is anesthetized while they remedy the affected area.

Recovery of Fly Bites in Dogs

Prognosis is generally good unless a maggot infestation is severe. In this case, the ears may experience scarring and remain thickened. Otherwise, cleaning up the kennel or stable area brings good resolution. Reinfestation is easy if desirable habit reoccurs near the dog’s kennel area. Tidy homestead practices can keep trouble at bay.

See also:  Fleas and flea control in cats, International Cat Care


Deer Fly Control and Deterrent Tips to Keep Biting Flies Away

May 30, 2018 By Laurie Neverman 54 Comments
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We’re kicking off deer fly and mosquito season around here, so I thought I’d take a minute to share some tips for deer fly control to help you keep biting flies away. (See Natural Mosquito Repellents That Work and Natural Tick Control for more on those biting insects.)

Where do Deer Flies Live? Is there a “Deer fly Season”?

As anyone who has ventured into the woods can tell you where deer flies prefer to hang out. Since they lay their eggs in mud areas near water, swamps and wet lands are some of the worst spots to get bit. That said, they also make themselves at home around livestock, campgrounds, and open fields – anywhere there’s a meal nearby and somewhere to lay their eggs not too far away. Deer fly season peaks in June/July in most of their range. They are common throughout most of the United States and Canada.

Do all Deer Flies Bite?

Deer flies are also called a Marsh Fly, Sheep Fly, Yellow Fly, Pine Fly, May Fly, and Salt Marsh Greenheads. Whatever you call them, they’re annoying. The females are the guilty parties. They’re after your blood, and their bites really itch. The males feed on pollen and nectar from plants.

Deer flies tend to go for the head and upper body, whereas horse flies like to go for the legs. Deer flies are about 1/4″ to 1/3″ (6 -8 mm) long. Horse flies are about 2-3 times the size of deer flies. Like mosquitoes, deer flies are attracted to carbon dioxide from breathing, warmth, motion and darker colors.

Deer fly saliva contains an anti-coagulant, which means the bites keep bleeding for a while. Those who are allergic to anticoagulants can have a reaction to deer fly bites. The bites will swell and itch, so it’s important to keep kids from scratching to prevent secondary infections. Check out 15 Home Remedies for Bug Bites and Stings for treatment tips.

Deer Fly Deterrent to Keep Biting Flies Away from Your Head

My youngest complained about deer flies every time he mowed the yard. The deer flies dive bombed his eyes and circled his head.

A while back my husband told me a story about when he was a Boy Scout. They were traveling through a swampy area in Canada, being plagued by deer flies. Their guide plucked a muddy fern and set it on top of his hat. The flies started circling the fern instead of his head. The rest of the troops followed suit, and they were one their way without flies in their faces.

We’re short on ferns around here, but do have peacock feathers. I took my son’s hat, a little duct tape and a couple of feathers, and set him up with his own personal deer fly deterrent.

Voila! No more flies in the eyes. He hasn’t been bit or bothered by deer flies since he started wearing this hat. Plus, I think he makes those feathers look good.

More Deer Fly Deterrents and Deer Fly Control Tips

Deerfly patches stick onto your hat to trap the little buggers, and larger sticky traps for deer flies and other biting flies to keep near your barn, stable or campsite. The patches might also work well on a pant leg or wrist if the flies are really bad and going after any exposed skin.

Tom B. shared another handy option on our Facebook page for those who are driving tractors:

“My uncle has a cattle ranch in Canada. The land is completely flat, and he is also plagued with deer flies when he’s out on his tractor. His trick is tying a red rag to a tall plastic pipe strapped to his tractor. Always works. They go after the tallest thing around.”

Biting Black Flies and Buffalo Gnats

This year (2018), there’s been an extreme surge in the population of small biting black flies (also known as buffalo gnats or turkey gnats) in many areas. My friend, Joy, of Adventure Acres, was hard hit with buffalo gnats on her small homestead. She checked on her chicken flock at night and all was well. The next day during morning chores, they found many chickens dead. Some died from inhaling the gnats, others seemed to have died from an allergic reaction to the number of bites received. The gnats were mobbing the chickens, biting every exposed surface, even working under the feathers to bite. Although she knew gnats were in the area, they have never had a problem like this before. Joy’s grandfather noted that he had not seen so many gnats in the 90 years that he has lived in the area.

To save the rest of the flock, Joy mixed up a vanilla spray gnat repellent with three parts vanilla and one part water. She sprayed this on the chickens and around the coop and yard. The results were visible – gnats left the chickens, even crawling out from under the feathers where they were hiding. You can use homemade vanilla extract if you have it. (Real vanilla extract is best because it’s more potent, but imitation will do in a pinch.) Place the vanilla/water mix in a spray bottle and apply liberally to areas that you want to protect.

Is there a biting black fly/buffalo gnat season?

Yes, there is a biting black fly season where activity peaks for these little buggers. The worst of the black flies appear for a several weeks in late spring/early summer. Timing varies by area and weather patterns for the year.

If You Get Bit by a Biting Fly

Remember, if you’re a little slow with the fly repellents and you get bit, we have help at 15 Home Remedies for Bug Bites and Stings.

Thanks for stopping by, and don’t forget to Like, Pin, Stumble or otherwise share this post if you find it useful.

You may also find useful:

Originally posted in 2012, updated in 2017, 2018.

Reader Interactions


karla from colorado says

Neat idea. I get bit by those nasty buggers when I walk along the canal – they HURT! I gotta find me a feather or a fern!

(oh, and I tried to stifle but just can’t help pointing out – ‘Wallah’ should be ‘Voila’, actually pronounced vwah-lah. It’s one of those French words that don’t sound like they look they should! okay, I’ll shut up now…)

lol – I don’t mind the corrections. Just wait until you see my Spanish – it’s worse than my French.

karla from colorado says

Haha!! Good, I’m glad you don’t mind a ‘know-it-all’ like me!! Bring on the Spanish… ;D

You want to know the funniest part? I was going to use some other words (I can’t remember what at the moment), but I didn’t want to spell it wrong, lol.

karla from colorado says

Oh, I just noticed you changed it!! lol! Yay!

I’m much more fluent in Redneck and Yooper. I know I little bit of sign language, too, but one of the few signs I remember is “I forget”.

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Can we just talk about the bugs? If your going to banter all cute like then get a bed together. Stop wasting time on this thread. Jack-asses

Jeremy – we do have a room together – it’s called “I own the website”.

Having a pleasant conversation is not wasting time. It’s common courtesy – which you would know if anyone had taught you manners.

Also, speaking of spelling errors (which is what prompted the first comment), the word you were looking for is “you’re”, not “your”. Maybe Karla can help you out, too, if you ask nicely.

The post itself contains the relevant information about deer fly control. I update it as comments come in and people share tips that I missed. No need to be rude about reading comments that are completely optional.

Wow, I am super glad that Laurie responded to you because I don’t think I would have been as nice….

Jeremy needed some summer school…

This is great info, as always! We will put this to use. Thanks!
Wanted to also let you know the lotion bar link isn’t working. Or maybe just not for me.

Thanks, Heather. I just added a new link that should work better.

I dont even use a feather the bucket hat works well on it’s own to keep the flys out of the face. The bucket hat also keep long hair from being grabbed by trees. Putting your hand above your head works too, but can only hold it up so long.

Amber Bradshaw says

Do you think taping a feather to my feet would work? Every year I get bit on my ankles. Im allergic to them and my feet swell to look like a cabbage patch doll. Then a blister forms, pops, and oozes for a week (sorry for gross description) and it’s very painful. I have catnip in my bugs spray, maybe I need more? Btw, I did a Google search for this issue and your article was the first listed! Congratulations Laurie, you’ve done good for yourself. Keep on truckin’

I’d vote for a stronger topical bug deterrent, especially given that you’re allergic, possibly something with an essential oil blend like Terrashield, or citronella and mint. If you get bit, do your best to get a poultice on it immediately to pull out the toxins and reduce inflammation. My favorite go to for bites and stings is common plantain. It’s worked wonders for me. You might also want to check out the post on Home Remedies for Bug Bites and Stings.

Thanks for the words of support.

I wonder if you could try something similar for horses? Ever since the weather warmed up this year, when the kids and I go riding, the deer flies and horse flies swarm us! Even when we use spray on the poor horses, they get bit over and over.

It’s worth a try. Maybe something mounted on the pommel and something on your hat?

Interesting..I wonder if that’s not the original reason the Native Americans (and others) wore feathers & headdresses on their heads…and why many hats often have a feather in the hatband !?

I have no idea. Anyone?

My wife uses dryer sheets works but not very attractive

I was wondering the same thing…

I collect my urine in spray bottles. Spray your lower extremities.

Why not just pee on your feet?

This fantastic advice. I will try it tomorrow. I hike daily in a wetland and nothing so far has worked well. Deet, oil of lemon eucalyptus, icaridin. Permithrin is hard to get without additives in Canada, I have to wait until I can go to the US to get Sawyers version.

Will Any type of fern work such as Kimberly Fern. They attack me & grandkids around my pool.

Anything that rides above the head will attract the deer flies to that instead of you when you are upright. It’ll be of limited help when you’re sitting down or laying down.

Becky Summers says

Hi Laurie! Love your information. I have been Researching information about deer flies and horseflies online and found your site. I love that you provide information that is different from what the other sites post and not just the same thing over and over again. I have a question… I live in North Florida and I keep getting bit on the back of my legs and my ankles. I’m not sure if I’m getting bit by horseflies or deer flies because they are so fast and we have both here. Do you have any advice on how to identify which fly by the bite?

Thankfully I haven’t been bitten by a horse fly, so I don’t have an easy way to compare them. The bite descriptions I’m finding are similar for both. Around here, we have both, but it’s been my experience that the deer flies are much more likely to attempt to snack on me. I’ll find the horse flies in barns, or stuck in windows of the coop.

The deer flies on my property are terrible this year also the ticks too. One home remedy I heard of and tried is take an old hat and put vicks vapo rub on the brim, sides, and back, I also put a little dab on my ears, elbows and back of my neck. It actually does work, the flies will still buzz around your head but wont land and will leave after a few moments. I havent found a way to keep the ticks away though, they seem to hitchhike on the clothes and strike when the timings right…

Thanks for sharing your tip, Randy. We do have some tips for ticks at https://commonsensehome.com/natural-tick-repellents/, but they tend to be persistent pests.

What about yellow flies

The same deterrents that help with deer flies may also help with yellowflies, especially the traps and sticky patches. Eliminate standing water around the yard to reduce breeding areas. The flies can travel one to two miles, so spraying the yard with pesticides is unlikely to provide significant relief. Avoid outside activities at dawn and dusk, when they are most active, and shady, moist areas. (If possible – I know work demands otherwise at times.)

When I was kid living on a farm in the ’50s we used DDT to control bugs and flies. Years later Diazinon became the Atomic Bomb to kill bugs. Both have been banned from used in many countries. We also used Creolin liquid cleaner mixed with Lard to smear on exposed skin and on our hats. It smelled terrible but it kept the flies away., Burned like heck if it got in your eyes or an open wound. Then came Deet with a high concentration which did help but the allowable per cent strength of it has been reduced in bug repellents so it doesn’t work as well as it did in the 60s-70s. Deer flies were a nuisance but could be kept at bay with the Creolin mixture. With DDT sprayed on ones hat and clothes they died after they did light. No Seeums, as they have been called, are horrid. Nothing seems to repel those little blood suckers. This year, 2018, bugs of all kinds have become worse and wide spread. Bed Bugs which were all but wiped out using DDT are now on the increase globally with no permanent solution. Since they apparently don’t carry diseases the health authorities don’t view them as a health threat or problem. They are if one is allergic to the bites and they become infected. Not to mention the itchiness that develops from the bites as much as 7-10 days later. I have lived in a 20 multi unit bldg for over eleven yrs and never had a bug problem. This year, 2018, my wife and I started getting bites. The said they could be flea or Bed Bug bites. We set sticky traps everywhere and didn’t catch a thing. Sprayed Deet everywhere and still got bites. Got a PCO with two different dogs to sniff for Bed Bugs and a visual inspection by the PCO, nothing. Recently I found a dead earwig on the floor where I had put diatomaceous earth all around the baseboards and under the furniture. Whatever is biting us leaving small bites which become infected at times is still a mystery. If it is a bug or fly it must be invisible to the naked eye and alludes all sticky traps and insecticides. Maybe it is time to bring back DDT/Diazinon on a limited basis under strict controls to get these nuisance blood suckers under control. There has not been any chemicals or pesticides developed that equal the killing power of DDT/Diazinon since they were banned. Ticks are another BIG problem this year. They are everywhere and have overpopulated many areas. It is difficult to enjoy the great outdoors when being attacked and bitten by blood sucking insects. It is difficult to relax and get a peaceful nights rest when being attached by Bed Bugs. We have and are losing the war against these blood suckers. Some which carry deadly diseases. The Bugs are winning the war

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Bugs that are attracted to carbon dioxide can be lured away by mixing up some yeast and warm water in a soda bottle. I add a little sugar to feed the yeast, they go in the bottle and drown. Experiment with essential oils, spiders hate peppermint oil as do mice. Ants hate citrus, you get the picture. Search Pinterest I have found a lot on there.

Jane A Hancock says

I went to Peru on a Medical Mission and some were attacked by bed bugs the first night. I had brought Permetherin and was ok, but in the morning our hosts took all the mattresses outside and left them in the sun all day. No one had another bed bug bite the rest of the trip (about 18 of us). Pretty amazing!

Sometimes the simplest remedies are the best.

Jason Tebo says

Thank you for the lack of information . I literally found no,information that was suggested I would learn. I want to find a way to rid my property of deer flies and keep it chicken safe. Thank you for your the deception.

Little bit harsh on that critique there, Jason. There is no way to completely get rid of deer flies. They fly. It’s the damndest thing. You could kill every one on your place, and more can fly in.

As outlined in the post (which it would seem you didn’t read), you can use traps, sprays and other techniques to reduce populations and keep them from biting you, but that’s about it.

I wanted to say after reading Jason’s nasty, stupid post, that you *did* help me. Blackfly season appears to be letting up now, so of course, deer flies are just now emerging, and I’ve been trying to find a way to keep them off my dogs when we walk around town. I’ve decided that I’m going to try pinning some flags or something on their harnesses. I’ve ordered some Farnam Repel-X for them also, since it works for horses, to see if that works as well. And for me, the deer fly strips for my mesh hat!

Anyway, thank you for your blog; I wish I had found it sooner. =)

I wish people didn’t feel a need to be so nasty, but the decent folks make up for it.

Mike Brennan says

Skin so soft ,an Avon product,works the best kind for my dogs ears.Just soak a piece of cotton wool and wipe the ear inside and out,until I started using this last year my dogs ears were just a mess.Haven’t found anything as good for me yet so will be trying the feather in the hat

Thanks, Mike, and good luck.

I have a cottage 300 km north of Toronto, and over the last 30 years have discovered a simple way to help keep the pests off of my and my family.
we use bug spray, deep woods off, muskol etc, on arms, torso, neck, backs of hands etc. and then wear a t-shirt for example.
However, each member of my family has a old long sleeved dress shirt that we put on to go outside (this is only in the summer, also only when not raining, or cold etc.) , and then spray this shirt with bug spray. The key here, is that this light shirt rarely gets washed, we use it like a very light jacket, and keep putting the bug spray on it.
You don’t wash a jacket each time you go outside either.
The shirt is also slightly oversized so it does not make you that much warmer.
Clearly if you do a lot of work outside and sweat through the shirt, get it very dirty, or spend a few hours using a chain saw (and your clothes smell like 2 -cycle oil/exhaust) you may want to wash it with greater frequency.


How to Keep Flies From Biting a Dog’s Ears

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Items you will need

Pet safe fly repellent

Biting flies can quickly make your dog itchy and miserable during the hot summer months. Flies tend to attack the most vulnerable areas of your pet’s body, preferring to bite the places with the thinnest skin such as the ears and nose. Fly bites can turn into infections or even lead to maggots being deposited under your pet’s skin. Take preventative measures to protect your dog from being excessively bitten by flies and ensure that he stays comfortable and healthy.

Bring your dog inside. Biting flies rarely thrive inside your home and most humans will go out of their way to ensure any biting flies that do get into the home are disposed of very quickly. If you want to protect your dog from biting flies, keep him inside your home where the biting fly population is low to non-existent.

Protect your home and yard from biting flies. Biting flies breed in standing water and swampy areas; eliminating breeding areas, such as stagnant ponds or water filled containers, can help cut the biting fly population around your home. Make sure all your windows have screens over them and put up pet safe, commercially available fly traps around your property to help further reduce fly numbers.

Use fly-repellents to protect your dog from biting flies. A wide variety of pet-safe fly repellents are readily available for purchase from any retailer that sells pet items. To specifically protect your dog’s ears, spray or rub the repellent on the outer sections of the ear. Do not spray repellent directly into the inner ear.


If your dog appears to be having a severe allergic reaction to the biting flies, you may need to discuss your options with your veterinarian in order to find a solution that will work best for your pet.


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