I count myself as extremely lucky. Our little microenvironment in upstate New York is not a hotbed for ticks. People living even a few miles from our farm tend to see many more ticks. However, last fall and this spring I started finding occasional ticks on the dogs. Luckily, none on the horses so far.
Are ticks a concern for our horses? Absolutely! Two of the diseases ticks can spread to horses are Lyme disease and Anaplasmosis (used to be Equine Ehrlichiosis if you started in horses way back like I did :-). Both of these diseases can be treated, but they can also do lasting damage to your horse.
Anaplasmosis will affect your horse’s blood cells. You may notice petechia (tiny blood patches on the skin), edema or swelling of the legs, a fever and not wanting to move. Some horses will show icterus or yellow tissues from the destruction of red blood cells. This is diagnosed via blood samples and treated with oxytetracycline.
Lyme disease is seen in horses in areas where the disease is prevalent in people and pets. Think New England and the Northeast, though the areas of known cases are spreading. Horses may show joint problems with lameness, pain, laminitis, eye problems and possible liver or kidney problems. This is generally treated with oxyteracycline or doxycycline.
The reality is that you would prefer not to have to treat your horse at all! So how can you help to prevent tick problems with your horses?
Step one is to look at your environment. Mowed or fairly closely grazed pastures (such as a rotational system) will keep tick encounters to a minimum. Don’t pile up brush or old leaves and other plant material right by your horse pastures and your barn.
Discourage wildlife. Deer, voles, mice and almost any mammalian wildife can carry ticks into your pasture and near your horses. Put salt and mineral blocks near the barn so hopefully deer won’t come that close to lick them. Put hay out in racks near the barn for the same reason. Sunlight and dry weather (low humidity) are enemies of ticks, so keep that in mind as you survey your property and plan plantings, landscaping, etc.
Chickens, especially bantams, and guinea hens are renowned for tick eating. If you want farm fresh eggs and fewer ticks you can simply add a few chickens to your animal population. Of course, chickens can bring their own problems and beware if you have a horse with allergies.
There are very few products for horses specifically labeled for tick control but many of the fly sprays will help to discourage ticks from attaching to your horse. I have sprayed people insect repellents on a cloth and used that to wipe down my horses during bad times of insect harassment.
Actually the best method of tick control (along with environmental steps) is to do a quick daily survey of your horse. An eyeball assessment can catch many ticks early on. You may need to actually rub your hands over your horse in some areas like the armpits and carefully feel for any “tick bumps.” Always check ears and tail carefully. Sitting on the tailbone is a common place for ticks to attach on horses and they like ears too. If you see your horse itching, rubbing or biting at a certain spot, feel carefully for any ticks in those areas. A recent suggestion was to run a lint roller over your horse when he comes in from the pasture. Ticks that aren’t firmly attached already would get stuck on the sticky paper.
If you find a tick, do NOT do the local old wives’ tales methods of removal. Holding a match near the tick will simply singe and terrify your horse! I can recommend a “tick key”. These little tools work very well for scooping a tick out. Ideally you should wear gloves while doing this. Horses, dogs and people tolerate tick removal with this simple tool.
Hopefully you won’t encounter any ticks on you or your horse. If you have other great tips to share on keeping tick populations down and keeping ticks off your horse, feel free to share them!