What Is A Flea Bitten Horse?

Last Updated on April 12, 2022

Have you ever heard someone talk about a flea bitten horse and wondered what they mean? Let’s find out everything you need to know about flea bitten horses!

What Does Flea Bitten Mean In Horses?

The term flea bitten does sound very odd, but there are many words in horse terminology that are quite unusual! Flea bitten does not mean that a horse has been bitten by fleas. In fact, a flea bitten horse is one with very distinctive coat color and markings.

When a horse is described as flea bitten, it has tiny flecks of colored hair all over its body. From a distance, they can look like a rash, or like the horse has been bitten many times by fleas!

A flea bitten horse is not born this color but will develop these flecks of colored hair over a long period of time. For this to occur, the horse needs to inherit a very specific set of color modifying genes from its parents.

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What Color Is A Flea Bitten Horse?

A flea bitten horse will have a grey coat color, with tiny flecks of colored hair.

The grey coloring must be a true grey – this means that the hair has lost its pigmentation over time, rather than a horse that was born with light-colored hair. A grey horse will have dark skin underneath the grey hair.

A flea bitten horse will gradually develop flecks of darker hair on its grey base coat. Sometimes, these will appear as the horse’s color fades to grey, in others the marks will not appear until the greying process is complete.

These flecks will be a different color depending on the base coat color of the horse. All grey horses are born with colored hair, which loses pigmentation as the horse ages. So, if the horse was born as chestnut or bay, the speckles that develop will be chestnut colored. A black foal will develop darker brown or black flea bitten spots.

It is important not to get flea bitten horses mixed up with other spotted horses. The flecks on a flea bitten grey are tiny, and their size and shape can change over time. Other spotted horse coat markings are present at birth and never change, whereas flea bitten spots develop over time.

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How Do Flea Bitten Horses Get Their Coloring?

To get grey coat coloring, a horse must inherit the grey coat color modifier gene from one or both of its parents. This gene is always dominant, so the horse will turn grey whether it has one or two copies of the gene.

However, the depth of the color change will alter according to whether the horse has one or two copies of the gene. In a horse with one grey gene, some colored hairs may be retained for longer.

Flea bitten markings normally occur in horses that have only inherited one copy of the grey gene. In this situation, the horse will turn grey over time, as the genetic modifier causes depigmentation of the hair.

So, a grey horse will be born with a colored coat, and gradually fade to grey over 6-8 years. During this time, the coat will go through several stages of coloring.

The first stage is when the coat contains a few grey hairs, which lightens the overall color of the coat. In a dark-colored horse, this will be called steel grey. Lighter base coat colors produce rose grey coloring.

Next, the horse will develop circles of white hair surrounded by darker hair. This is called a dappled grey. Gradually the darker hairs also fade, and the horse will become completely grey.

How Do Flea Bitten Horses Get Their Coloring

Very occasionally, you will get a horse that develops tiny groups of colored hairs. This can happen during the final stage of color change, or even after the coat is completely grey. This is called a flea-bitten grey and is relatively rare in grey horses.

It is not entirely clear why this coloring occurs. Scientists think that part of the grey coat color modifier gene may be ‘switched off’, allowing the hair to regrow in its base coat color. Whatever the reason, this odd twist of genetics produces a distinctive and very beautiful coat color in horses!


So, as we have learned, a flea bitten horse is one with a grey coat color and tiny speckles of colored hair. The color of these speckles will match the base coat color the horse was born with, before it turned grey. Flea bitten grey coloring develops slowly over time, and the horse will go through several other shades of grey first.

We’d love to hear your thoughts on flea bitten grey coloring in horses! Have you ever owned a grey horse that developed colored speckles on its coat? Or maybe you’re not quite sure how to tell if your horse is going to turn out flea bitten or not? Leave a comment below and we’ll get back to you!


What Is A Flea Bitten Horse?

The term flea bitten might sound like a horse has been bitten by fleas, but this is not the case! Horses do not commonly get fleas, and the name flea bitten is used to describe a particular color of horse. These horses have colored speckles on a grey base coat, also known as blood marks.

Do All Grey Horses Turn Flea Bitten?

Not all grey horses will turn flea bitten. In order for this coloring to appear, a certain set of genetic circumstances needs to occur.

What Breed Is A Flea Bitten Grey Horse?

A flea bitten grey horse is not any particular breed, but is caused by the color genes inherited by the horse. There is one breed of horse which is more likely to have fleabitten grey coloring, and this is the elegant and refined Arabian horse.

What Are The Requirements To Determine If You Have A Flea Bitten Grey Horse?

A flea bitten grey horse will have gone through several stages of color changes before it develops the colored specks on a grey base coat. These specks will be the same color as the base coat the horse was born with before it turned grey.