What is Lice?
The blood sucking louse, Haematopinus asini, can be more harmful to your horse’s health than can Bovicola equi or Trichodectes pilosus. Haematopinus asini can make your horse anemic and weak due to blood loss. However, the chewing parasites Bovicola equi and Trichodectes pilosus, can be extremely painful and irritating to the horse’s skin. If you see your horse excessively itching at his skin, he should be seen by a veterinarian.
Lice are parasites that can live on the horse’s skin. There are three species of lice that can infect horses. Haematopinus asini ingests the equine’s blood. The other two lice, Bovicola equi and Trichodectes pilosus, chew on the surface of the horse’s skin.
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Symptoms of Lice in Horses
Symptoms may include one or more of the following:
- Skin inflammation
- Hair loss
- Biting at the skin
- Rubbing against fences, walls, posts
- Coat looks dull
- Matted hair
- Decreased muscle tone
- Raw skin
- Lice eggs attached to the hair
Causes of Lice in Horses
Lice can live on objects for a few days, awaiting a host. Stressed horses or equines with suppressed immune systems are more susceptible to contract lice. Lice can be transmitted by:
- Sharing of infected grooming or riding equipment
- Using a blanket that has lice on it
- Physical contact with an infected animal
- Putting the horse in a lice infected stall or trailer
Diagnosis of Lice in Horses
Clinical signs may be the best way to verify if your horse has lice. The veterinarian will be able to determine if this is the case by closely examining your horse’s skin, tail, ears, and mane. Upon physical examination, the veterinarian will be able to diagnose a lice infestation by finding lice eggs and by visually identifying the lice.
In addition to the visual examination, the veterinarian may recommend a complete blood count to verify the systemic condition of your equine companion. Secondary infection is possible with a lice infestation, particularly of your horse has abrasions or cuts caused by scratching himself against stall walls or outdoor fences. Of importance as well is making sure that your horse is not anemic as a result of the lice being present.
Treatment of Lice in Horses
Once lice are found, the veterinarian will suggest a medicated shampoo. It is important to use an equine medicated shampoo and not a product meant for cattle or goats. Shampoos not designed for horses will cause skin irritation and sometimes hair loss.
It is recommended that the person caring for your horse should wear gloves. The wearing of gloves can help to prevent the transmission of lice to other animals. When using the shampoo, avoid getting it in the horse’s eyes. After your horse is shampooed, he should be combed out for lice egg removal. The veterinarian may also suggest a de-wormer such as a paste of ivermectin.
Blankets need to be washed in hot water and dried. Riding equipment must also be cleaned and disinfected. The medicated shampoo may be used to wash and disinfect the grooming brushes. Your horse’s bedding should be changed and the stall can be sprinkled with Sevin dust.
Horses diagnosed with anemia may need supplements and B-12 shots.
Recovery of Lice in Horses
Horses diagnosed with lice should have follow-up visits to check for re-infestations. If lice are found after two weeks, the horse will need to be retreated for the parasite. He will need to be re-shampooed with the medicated shampoo and combed out for lice eggs. Stalls and equipment must be re-cleaned and disinfected.
Horses that were diagnosed with anemia should have a repeat complete blood count to ensure that the red blood cell count is back to a normal range. If the veterinarian’s treatment plan is followed, the prognosis for a full recovery from a lice infestation is very good. It should be noted, studies show horses that are regularly de-wormed have less issues with lice than horses that are not de-wormed.