Prevent Equine Tick-Borne Illness with these Tips from Veterinarians

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 Prevent Equine Tick-Borne Illness with these Tips from Veterinarians

Ticks are quickly becoming a significant parasite of horses across the United States. Many people blame this trend on global warming, while others believe the increase in deer and other wildlife populations has resulted in ticks becoming more common in areas where horses are kept.

When a tick bites your horse, you may not see it right away, but your horse will definitely exhibit signs. Ticks cause localized tissue irritation, which can result in the horse constantly rubbing on trees or fences, hair coat damage, and anemia due to blood loss.

Which diseases can ticks transmit to horses?

Ticks can transmit a number of serious diseases to horses of all ages. These illnesses include:

  • Piroplasmosis
  • Lyme disease
  • Equine granulocytic anaplasmosis (ehrlichiosis)
  • Equine infectious anemia, which is detected through Coggins testing

Tips to Prevent Tick-Borne Illnesses

To reduce the chances of your horse contracting a tick-borne disease, follow these tips from experienced veterinarians.

How can I best protect my horse from picking up ticks?

Tick prevention requires diligence to locate them on your horse and remove them, application of tick-specific repellents, and environmental controls.

Ticks are blind and find their hosts by detecting ammonia, which is given off by a horse’s breath and body during sweating, or by sensing heat, moisture, and vibrations. A tick waits for a host by resting on the tips of grasses and shrubs with its first pair of legs outstretched. When a horse walks by and brushes against the foliage, the tick quickly climbs aboard and starts searching for a good spot to latch on.

  • Repellents

Coumaphos spray or powder; permethrin applied as a wipe, spray or spot-on; and zeta-cypermethrin dusting powders are the most common tick repellents for horses. These should be applied to the horse’s mane, tail head, chest and underbelly. The entire horse does not need to be sprayed.

Check the label on any repellent you choose to use to make sure it is effective against ticks, as many insect repellents are not. Apply repellent before riding or turning your horses out to pasture which is where most ticks are picked up.

  • Pasture Management

For pasture management, the quickest way to decrease the number of ticks your horse comes into contact with is to clear away any brush that is lying on the ground. This is where ticks like to lie in wait, hoping for your horse to brush against them. You can also try discouraging wildlife, such as deer, that tend to reintroduce ticks to grazing areas. Guinea fowl and free-range chickens do an excellent job of finding and eating ticks around the yard.

Where do ticks typically attach to horses?

Check your horses for ticks thoroughly after rides and daily if they are out on pasture. Often it is easier to feel ticks than see them. Run your fingers over the horse’s skin in areas where ticks like to attach, feeling for small bumps that may indicate smaller immature ticks.

Some ticks attach immediately while others wander around the horse’s body, looking for the areas where the skin is thinner. This is why ticks are usually found on a horse’s chest, underbelly, mane, tail, legs, or inside the flank. The result is often a local skin reaction that appears as a small, firm nodule.

What is the best way to remove a tick from a horse?

If you find a tick on your horse, remove it immediately by following these steps:

  • Do not crush or twist the tick, as it causes the tick to regurgitate blood back into your horse, which increases the chance of infection or disease transmission.
  • Do not apply baby oil or petroleum to smother the tick, or force it to detach with a lit match. Those methods do not work and can cause damage to your horse.
  • Wear gloves and use tweezers to gently remove the tick.
  • Grasp the tick firmly by the head where it enters the horse’s skin.
  • Do not squeeze or yank. Instead, pull firmly and steadily straight away from the skin until the tick’s head comes free.
  • Drop detached ticks in a small jar of rubbing alcohol to kill them. Wash the attachment site with a mild antiseptic and then wash your hands.

Need More Information or to Have Your Horse Checked?

If you have questions about tick control for your specific horse and environment, want to know more about the diseases they can transmit to your horses, or suspect your horse may be sick from a tick bite, contact the veterinary team at Carolina Equine Hospital.