Ecovet Blog

An Improved Scent, Sprayer for Ecovet

Ecovet, the fly repellent that offers a biorational (less toxic) approach to protecting your equine friend from pests, now boasts an improved sprayer and scent based on feedback from customers and testers.

Veterinarian Tim John, Ecovet founder and CEO, reports that the new sprayer allows for a larger spray droplet and less mist for more efficient coverage.

The updated scent has hints of sage and lavender, and was overwhelmingly the top choice among Ecovet testers. (The classic scent is no longer available.)

Before Ecovet, there were two main choices for protecting horses from pests: 1) toxic pesticides or 2) essential oils, which offer limited effectiveness. Instead of dousing horses with toxic chemicals, horse owners are opting for Ecovet’s proprietary mixture of naturally occurring fatty acids.

Ecovet is effective on many types of flies, ticks and lice. (The fatty acids confuse and overwhelm an insect’s normal directional ability, so it is unable to locate an Ecovet-sprayed horse as its next victim.) Additionally, Ecovet has clinically shown improvement for horses with difficult-to-treat sweet itch problems. Ecovet is supported by a group of veterinarians who use the product on their own horses.

To Kill or To Repel?

By Tim John, DVM

When it comes to protecting your horse from pests, what’s the difference between an insecticide and a repellent … and why should you care?

The difference, as the names suggest, is that one kills and one repels. Does this really matter when you’re trying to combat the swarms we usually encounter?

The answer is maybe.

It depends on what type of bugs you are trying to stop and how the bugs interact with your horse. The two most important bugs we may want to repel (instead of just killing) are:

    1. midges (no-see-ums) and
    2. mosquitoes.

Midges, in susceptible horses, may lead to problems with “sweet itch” – a hypersensitivity reaction to the bite itself. Mosquitoes can transmit West Nile virus and other nasty neurological problems.

In both of these cases, it is much better that these pests do not come near us if possible, so you should reach for an insect repellent.

Most repellents act as vapor barriers. That is, they slowly (or too quickly) evaporate to form a shield that stops the bugs from coming near. DEET is the “classic” repellent, but its use in horses is not recommended.

Interestingly, most pyrethrins (neurotoxins that attack the nervous systems of insects, commonly used in sprays) are good insecticides but poor repellents. EXTOXNET, a university-supported toxicology network, states that permethrin (a common chemical used in insecticides and repellents) has only a “slight repellent effect against insects.”

So what happens most of the time with these products is that the bugs are actually landing on the horse, contacting the spray on the horse before the active ingredients in the sprays achieve their maximal effect … and not doing a very good job of protecting your horse from direct contact with the midges and mosquitoes.

So the next time you’re reaching for insect spray, ask yourself: “What am I trying to accomplish? Are these sprays the right ones for the job?”

Fly Spray + Sunscreen = A Good Thing, Right? (Maybe Not.)

By Tim John, DVM

After reading over your horse’s fly spray bottle, you think:

Cool! This fly spray has sunscreen in it, too! Bonus.

Sometimes, though, it pays to step back and look at the bigger picture. What is the most likely reason that sunscreens were added to these spray formulations? Cancer protection is one of the reasons, yes. But the main reason is that the active ingredients in most fly sprays are destroyed by UV light. Pyrethroids (see What’s in My Horse’s Fly Spray, Part 1) can be very sensitive to UV degradation, so companies added in sunscreens as a way of protecting the effectiveness of the fly spray formula.

So what’s the big deal?

Image credit: Ellen Sinding,
“Summer sun” (via Flickr)

As we know about most things, there is always a tradeoff. Sunscreens protect the skin by penetrating deeper layers to block the damage caused by UV rays. However, they also help other compounds in the same formulation to penetrate to a greater extent.

That’s right: Research has shown that sunscreens can enhance the absorption of pesticides into an animal’s body. I’m not really sure that I want that.

In fact, our friends to the north (Canada) are so unsure of this combination that they do not allow human products with sunscreen and DEET in the same formulation. Kinda makes you wonder. Here in the U.S., the EPA and FDA asked for comments in 2007. We’re still waiting for their decision.

In the meantime, now you have something else to ponder in our never-ending battle against our flying nemeses.

What’s in My Horse’s Fly Spray? Part 2

By Tim John, DVM

Continued from What’s in My Horse’s Fly Spray, Part 1

In the previous post, we discussed fly sprays that contain pyrethroids as the active ingredient. Now, let’s look at those sprays with essential oils as the active ingredient.

As discussed, horse fly sprays can be broken down into two broad categories: those with pyrethroids and those with essential oils. This differentiation corresponds to how the EPA looks at fly sprays or, as the EPA likes to call them, insect repellent products.

In the United States, the EPA divides products into two types: registered and unregistered.

Pyrethroids all fall into the registered category. To become registered, products must submit to and undergo a long process to show efficacy and safety. When they pass, there are explicit instructions on how the product is to be used.

Unregistered products fall into a bit of a loophole. They contain ingredients from an approved list of minimal-risk pesticides and are for the most part essential oils. This list was developed because the EPA feels that these products are generally safe.

Essential oils are nature’s own defense mechanism. They are produced by plants to guard against would-be predators, in order to stop attacks and repel invaders.

These volatile oils are highly effective and literally save the plant’s life. So it makes sense to utilize nature’s best weapons for ourselves, right?

Unfortunately, it is not always so easy to borrow these ideas without running into potential problems. In the case of fly sprays, those issues include:

  • efficacy,
  • duration of effect, and
  • safety.

Essential oils are by their nature very volatile. When they are extracted from plants, the remaining portion tends to evaporate very quickly at animal body temperatures.

Probably the best-known essential oil is Citronella. Undiluted, it may repel flying insects for two hours.

Most common fly spray products contain between 5% to 15% concentrations, and some studies suggest they may only last 20 to 30 minutes. While higher concentrations of these oils work best, they are also the most likely to cause irritation to the eyes or skin. For example, peppermint oil is a known contact skin sensitizer in humans.

As it is expensive to run good scientific studies on these compounds, there is very little hard data available in regards to efficacy or duration of action for essential oil compounds. However, most herbalists agree that mixing different oils together can enhance their effect while minimizing the potential for an adverse reaction.

Most horse owners find that the combination of questionable efficacy and the need to frequently reapply these sprays leads to a very disappointing overall experience when using these products. If they are going to be successful, we need to keep in mind their limitations. Fly sprays with essential oils as the active ingredients are probably best considered when there is light insect activity and no increased exertion by the horse (activity = heat = increased evaporation of product from the horse).

So what are we supposed to do?

Certainly you want to protect your equine friend from pests, and there are many (many!) options out there for you to consider. I believe that knowledge is power in this case. Be a label reader. Be aware of what you’re using on your horse, and in turn yourself and potentially your kids. Ask trusted veterinary professionals and horse friends for input on products. Then do your own research so you can find a product that not only works well for your horse, but is also safe for you, your family, your equine friend and the environment.

What's in My Horse's Fly Spray? Part 1

By Tim John, DVM

Warning: Some contents may be unsettling.

“I wonder what’s really in that fly spray?”

That question echoed through my mind as I watched my wife and daughter douse their horses with fly spray prior to riding. As a veterinarian, I had a pretty good idea of what they were using, but I decided to do some research.

The answer was a little unsettling. Over the years, the active ingredients in traditional fly sprays have not changed very much. What has changed is what we now know about those active ingredients.

Let’s take a look.

Horse fly spray products can usually be broken down into two main groups:

  1. Those that contain pyrethroids as the active ingredient
  2. Those that contain essential oils as the active ingredient

Note: Some sprays may also contain a synergist (such as piperonyl butoxide, or PBO for short) to enhance the effectiveness of the product. We’ll get to that a little later.

In this post, we’ll talk about the first group – pyrethroids. Originally, pyrethrum was derived from East African chrysanthemum flowers. It was found to rapidly kill flying insects. However, it does not last very long, and it is quickly broken down in sunlight. This is good for the environment … but it means that multiple applications are needed to maintain effectiveness throughout the day.

Pyrethroids are essentially stabilized forms of natural pyrethrum that were originally developed in the early 1900s. They work by causing an overexcitement of neurons, which eventually leads to death in an animal. Mammals have adequate enzymes to rapidly break down these compounds, but insects do not. Pyrethroids are extremely toxic to beneficial insects, fish and other aquatic organisms, even in extremely low levels. None of that is really new information.

The new information has to do both with efficacy issues (how well something works) and potential long-term health consequences to us humans.

As might be expected, the longer a population of insects is exposed to a chemical, the more likely the bugs will become resistant to it. One study estimated that up to 90% of flies have become immune to permethrin, a type of pyrethroid.

The worst part? Our kids are being exposed to these chemical compounds even though the compounds are not helping as much as we thought. In fact, one study found that permethrin metabolized in 80% of the kids tested. A part of that percentage was likely exposure from the foods we eat, but it does make a person think.

The way most sprays get around the above-mentioned resistance is by adding multiple compounds to one product. Unfortunately, some studies have shown that there are cumulative toxicities with pyrethroid compounds.

The most concerning health issue is endocrine disruption. Endocrine disruption from pyrethriods has been shown to be a particular concern because it blocks estrogen’s hormonal effects. Wow, that got my attention! Here is my teenage daughter starting her journey to becoming a young woman … and we’re increasing her exposure to these products?

As the late-night infomercials say: “But wait – there’s more!”

PBO, the synergist mentioned earlier, is sometimes added to formulations because it works to stop liver enzymes from metabolizing the pyrethroids, thereby increasing their duration of activity in the animal. That animal (the insect) is the target, but we humans are also affected. PBO has other interesting links to our health. For example, it has been shown to cause fetal changes in pregnant women.

And the more we use, the more potential for negative consequences.

Stay tuned for part 2. We’ll take a look at the fly sprays that have essential oils as their active ingredient.

Enjoy free shipping on orders $75+!