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Ticks are not only a horrible nuisance to horse owners, but also carry and transmit several infectious diseases that can make your horse ill such as Lyme disease and anaplasmosis. Effective tick control strategies for horse owners will incorporate property management practices designed to reduce tick breeding grounds, tick repellents as well as the removal of ticks that are attached to your horse.
Ticks have a complex and varied life cycle that require certain habitats and animal hosts to complete. A tick will molt through several stages as it matures. At each point in the life cycle, it attaches to a host and takes a blood meal before molting to the next stage of development. A tick can acquire or transmit disease any time it takes a blood meal. Reducing breeding grounds for ticks and their animal hosts can help to reduce overall tick numbers on your property.
Ticks tend to reproduce amongst the leaf litter along the edges of forests. Keeping a tidy and neat boundary between pastures and the forest edge, free of debris and tall grass may help reduce the number of ticks near your horse's grazing area. Since small rodents, like the white-footed mouse, are important animal hosts for the developing stages of the tick, reducing woodpiles and other suitable rodent habitats also will help to reduce numbers. Guinea hens have been used to reduce tick numbers as they will seek out and eat the little arachnids if allowed to roam free on your property.
Tick Repellents for Horses
Unfortunately, there are few effective chemical repellents available for horses. Several permethrin containing products are available that have some efficacy against ticks, and may be sprayed or wiped on your horse before heading out for trail rides, for instance. These products should be applied to the legs and chest of the horse, as well as under the jawline and the underbelly. Periodic reapplication may be necessary if your horse is especially dirty or sweating a lot during your ride.
People living in tick endemic areas should inspect their horses regularly for ticks. If a tick is found embedded in your horse, use a pair of tweezers to grasp the tick by the head and gently pull it out. Attempting to smother the tick with products like petroleum jelly or alcohol is generally ineffective.
Fortunately, most diseases transmitted by ticks are not transmitted until the end of a blood meal, just before the tick drops off the host. In many cases, removing the tick will prevent the transmission of any infectious diseases. It is still possible for your horse to acquire a tick-borne illness even if you have removed a tick from him. It is possible that another tick could have been attached that you didn't notice, for instance. Monitor your horse for any signs of fever, lethargy or swollen legs and notify your veterinarian right away if you suspect your horse may be ill.