What are Ticks?
Most adult horses can usually build up a resistance to ticks, but if your horse is young or of the miniature breed they may be affected due to their size. There are a variety of tick species, with the paralysing breed causing the most damage. Usually, if you can find the tick there is a way to remove it carefully, making sure the head isn’t left attached to your horse. There is a tick antitoxin but it is very expensive and is only used in severe cases.
Blood sucking ticks thrive in warm climates and breed in woodland or bushy areas. They attach themselves to your horse, and can cause illness unless removed.
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Symptoms of Ticks in Horses
- The paralysis tick infestation can cause your horse to appear wobbly when standing or walking
- The general appearance of feeling unwell and not their usual self
- Labored breathing
- Falling or lying down for long periods
- Rubbing excessively on fences
- Irritation and restlessness
- Lack of appetite
- There are many different types of ticks, displaying different colors and variations in shape; it is not so much what the type is as what they all do that causes problems
- Ticks feed on their host’s blood and if that host has disease, the tick can spread this condition to other animals it moves onto
- Large numbers of ticks can cause excessive blood loss which can lead to life threatening conditions such as anemia
- The paralysis tick is the worst type which can cause weakness, falling, staggering and more serious complications
- Ticks will feed on any species from horses to cats to humans
Causes of Ticks in Horses
- Ticks attach themselves to your horse’s body, usually in the soft tissue such as the belly groin, and the face where there is less hair
- Allowing bush to encroach into the paddock as the ticks breed in these areas
- Long grass where the tick can hide while waiting for its next victim
- Warm humid days is when the ticks breed prolifically
- Riding in heavy woodland areas
- Infection from tick infestation
Diagnosis of Ticks in Horses
Early detection in any situation where your horse appears unwell is vital, as it can prevent complications that come from an extended illness or condition. Getting your veterinarian in to check your horse can rule out other serious conditions that have similar symptoms. During the warmer months, check your horse daily. One way is to run your hands over your horse, using your fingers in a scratching type movement and you will pick up the lump of the tick.
If it is a new attachment and your horse is feeling fine, you can learn how to remove them. Holding the tick by the head, and closely to the skin as possible with tweezers, remove by pulling straight up and out. Swab over the site with an antiseptic ointment. Dispose of the tick by putting it in a jar of rubbing alcohol. If you just throw it away it will live on to reinfect as they are very hard to kill. You may want to have the veterinarian identify the tick as an extra precaution against disease.
Treatment of Ticks in Horses
If you have trouble removing the tick or your horse has been infected for a while and is showing signs of illness, request that your veterinarian come out to your property immediately to evaluate and treat your horse. If ticks are left too long, your horse can suffer considerably with the chance of disease transmission a real threat. Treatment for tick paralysis can be very expensive due to the cost of the tick antitoxin and the need for long term care.
If your horse is showing signs of a reaction to tick bites, (staggering or collapsing), it is vital to call the veterinarian to examine your horse. He will be able to rule out other illness, and prescribe treatment as the sooner it is treated, the less expensive it is and the kinder it is to your horse. Your veterinarian may recommend spraying your horse with a pyrethrum insect repellent to cause the tick to withdraw and drop off. If it does not withdraw, spray again and leave for a few minutes. If it doesn’t fall off, remove it with tweezers as it should be dead.
Recovery of Ticks in Horses
Prevention is not always easy, but keeping your paddock grass low will help. Using horse covers during the humid warmer months and checking your horse daily will catch them early. Brushing your horse daily is not only good for your horse, but as you are going over the entire body you will observe any ticks. Keeping your horse out of woodland areas will help as ticks don’t like being out in the open paddocks, as direct sunlight is their enemy. You can use an insecticide spray along borders of woodland land areas and clear bush areas to keep the tick population down. Use a spray-on product on your horse that will provide several hours of protection if you are going to be riding in heavy wooded bushy areas. Reapply as directed if you are out for a while as perspiration and water can shorten the effectiveness of the product.