My Animals Are Scratching Themselves! What Now?

Being in Katima Mulilo over the last week, I got bitten by mosquitoes, because half the time I neglected to put on mosquito repellents. I was under the impression that my blood had some form of an insect repellent as when people normally complain of mosquito bites, I just see and hear them swirling up and down without touching me. Thus, to my shock and annoyance, the Zambezi mosquitoes got a feast of my blood. It took all the will power not to keep scratching myself from all the itching…
Anyway, while in Katima, I took some students for practice to a goat kraal where I asked them to describe the condition and behaviour of the goats in the kraal.  The goats were severely scratching and scratching themselves and most had lost their hair. Which bring us to today’s topic, of how to tackle animals that are scratching themselves.
Firstly, we should look at what could cause skin irritation in animals. The most common culprits are the external parasites infestation, which include attack from mites, ticks, lice, fleas, mosquitoes and all sorts of flies and other biting insects. At the beginning and during the rainy season, the external parasites activities are high and they tend to cause irritation to animals or even transmit various diseases such as Lumpy Skin Disease and three- day stiff sickness in cattle, sheep scab, Rift Valley Fever, Bluetongue in sheep, and African Horse Sickness, among others.
The skin irritation makes the animal scratch itself and if left untreated, the animal lose weight and interest in normal activities such as mating and feeding the young,  due to the continual discomfort of the irritation and it might eventually die. If tick bite occurs at the udder, mastitis can occur and thus reduce milk production. Some animals also get sores or wounds and infected ears from tick or fly bite. Hair loss is very common especially in mite infestation and severe tick irritation.
In order to tackle skin irritation in animals, every farmer should try to determine what sort of external parasite they are dealing with, because the treatment for mites is not necessarily the same as for flies or ticks. Since there are different type of external parasites which occur in different areas in Namibia and depending on where you are, treatment program might vary, we will discuss general remedial possibilities that can be applied anywhere to treat and control these external parasites.
For sick animals;
You should isolate and treat them as soon as possible, before the condition can spread in the whole kraal.
If an animal is severely affected with skin irritation, you can give an antibiotic as well to stop infection.
Treat any wound on an animal as soon as possible with wound oil/salve and cover it with wound spray that will repel the flies.
For animals with hardened skin that lost hair, it is important to apply a lubricant such as wound salve/oil or you can wash the whole body with mild antiseptic solution and afterwards apply liquid paraffin or even the normal petroleum jelly will do. Try to keep the severely affected animals under the shade as much as possible.
To get rid of external parasites, here are a few steps farmers should do:
Emphasis should be on prevention rather than treatment
Every farmer should have effective remedies against fly strike in their stock. Use insecticides (remedies to kill flies and other insects) such as pyrethroid that can be used to repel/kill them. Some insecticides stay on the animal for some time and kill insects that land on the animal. The common insecticides that also control ticks are Deadline®, Redline® or Paracide® pour-on. The instructions of manufacturers should be clearly followed when using these remedies. Don’t forget to wear protective clothing when using these chemicals as they can go through your skin and maybe poisonous.
Using sprays is not that effective unless targeting only a few animals with minor fly infestation and ticks.
Some de-wormers such as Ivomec® and Dectomax® that kill internal parasites can also be used to external parasites. But be careful to stick to the correct de-worming program in order to avoid drug resistance.
There are many dips compounds registered to treat mites and ticks including Amitraz, Deltamethrin, Diazinon and Cypermetrin.
Tick grease is also available, and is useful especially when there are a few ticks to control. It is applied to the problem areas or on ticks directly.
Some of our people in the village rub all sorts of engine oil on infested animals to kill mites and ticks, although this is not my favorite remedy, my advice is to not rub the whole body at once, but to treat the parts with ticks or mites and repeat the next day.
Hygiene is very important. Make sure that animal houses, sheds are clean and dry.
Make sure that kraals should not accumulate with dung. You can remove dung after every month or so.
Avoid grazing animals at wet, muddy places where flies, mosquitoes and midges tend to breed.
Another important precaution is to avoid castrating and dehorning animals during the wet season, otherwise flies might affect the recovery of the animal.
Finally, to avoid resistance to drugs that control external parasites, use them as little as possible, change the type every other year and use the long acting versions rather than short lived once. Although most of the drugs are suitable for all types of these biting and blood sucking buggers, it is advisable to consult your veterinary drug sales person or veterinary personnel on the best ones and how to use them, as suited for your circumstances.