Taking on Ticks: Keeping Your Horse Parasite Free

Ticks are pests that bother horses, humans and domestic pets alike. These small arachnids feed on blood when in the larvae, nymph and adult stages of their life cycle and are notorious for transmitting certain diseases.

Adult females are normally responsible for bites, as males tend to die after mating. They cannot jump or fly but will instead crawl onto a host and attach themselves to the skin, feeding on their blood. The tick is known to wait in

The Deer Tick
The Deertick

grass or on leaves in a “questing” position, whereby the tick holds on to its post with its back legs while stretching out the front legs so that it can readily crawl onto the body of a passing potential host.

Ticks transmit diseases to humans and horses during the late stages of feeding by injecting oral secretions into the host's skin and consequently their bloodstream. As there are several species of tick in the USA, each presenting a unique set of risks, it is important to check with your veterinarian regarding which tick-borne diseases are common in your state.

Some of the most common tick-borne diseases are:

  • Lyme disease
    • Potamac Horse Fever
    • Piroplasmosis
    • Equine Granulocytic Anaplasmosis (EGA).

How can I prevent ticks?

Protecting horses from ticks can be very difficult as they are prevalent in any grassland or woodland - the horse can easily pick up a tick while grazing or being ridden through tick-infested areas. However, ticks spend most of their time in the dark or within dense areas such as overgrown woods and tree lines. There is no simple way to completely prevent ticks from attacking your horse but by avoiding such environments and adopting some precautionary practices, you can reduce the risk of him coming into contact with these troublesome parasites.

  • Pasture management is the best way to reduce the risk of your horse coming into contact with ticks at home. Mow and remove any thick, overgrown bushes and fallen foliage which are likely to provide a habitat for ticks awaiting hosts.
  • If you cannot remove all overgrown areas or there is dense woodland nearby it is recommended that you install temporary fencing to keep horses away from any area that may present a risk.
  • If you have a severe tick problem, it may be necessary to use an insecticide to treat the land. Be careful not to reintroduce horses to the field until it is safe to graze again.
  • Thoroughly check your horse’s skin daily, especially after a ride, for any sign of ticks. They are most commonly found in areas of thinner coat hair such as on the chest and legs. If you find a tick it is important to remove it correctly so that the head does not remain and cause an infection.
  • If you regularly ride in dense woodland or tick-prone areas, it may be beneficial to apply a permethrin-based product directly to the horse to prevent any ticks which climb onto the horse from attaching.

How can I remove a tick from a horse?

If you find a tick, it is important to remove it as soon as possible. In many cases you may not notice the presence of a tick until it has fed for some time and become swollen with blood. Remove the tick with a pair of tweezers held at a slight angle and applied as closely to the skin as possible. Always remove the tick with a steady straight pull in one sharp movement so as not to leave any of the legs or head behind. It is important to treat the area of the bite with an antiseptic to prevent infection.

Ticks are bothersome and can cause problems for owners and horses alike but with a few simple preventative measures you can reduce your chances of interacting with one.

For more tips on parasite control, including how to get rid of pesky flies and mosquitoes, check back here at Spalding Labs again soon.