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Diagnosing and treating horse lice


Like any mammal with hair, horses can become infested with many different species of louse. They are not dissimilar to the types found on humans and other animals. The treatment however, is different and with sufficient knowledge, equine lice can be treated pretty easily.

There are different horse lice treatments available all year round. But, before you begin to treat them, it is vitally important that you know how to diagnose them on a horse.


Diagnosis of Horse Lice


Diagnosis and Symptoms of Horse Lice

Horse lice can be roughly split into two types, sucking (Haematopinus) and biting (Damalinia). The sucking variety generally appear in areas of longer hair such as the mane, tail, above the hooves and the forelock. They are usually smaller in size and a lot harder to spot. The biting variety are found in short haired areas such as the flanks, the neck and the base of the tail. These are far more common than the sucking kind and can be visibly seen. It is generally easier to diagnose lice in either winter or spring.

Your horse can also suffer from Mange - a disease that is contracted by the presence of mites. They are commonly found on the surface of agricultural animals such as horses, sheep and cattle etc. These can cause infestation of the skin, but are spotted and treated in the same way.

Firstly, you must spot the lice or mites on a horse and the symptoms that go with them, then you should contact a vet so they can advise you on the best course of action. We have provided you with a brief guide on how to diagnose them:


  • The first step when you diagnose horse lice is to consider the overall health of the horse. They struggle to survive on a healthy adult horse and are most common on horses with a weak immune system , if they are sick, old or young. When large numbers of horses are kept together however, lice can affect even the healthiest individuals.


  • By far the most common symptom is that the horses’ coat looks dull and unkempt. Patches of absent hair on the neck or the shoulders or raw skin may also suggest that the condition is present. Matted hair in the mane, tail or body is another common sign of horse lice. Decreased muscle tone is one of the less obvious symptoms, as is anaemia which will require a blood sample. This could also be identified by regularly weighing your horse.


  • There are some behavioural symptoms that can help you to diagnose horse lice as well, such as itching or biting the skin. If a horse is rubbing against fences or walls, this may indicate that they are present.


  • If you suspect your horse to be infected, you should do a thorough check over to spot any. They are roughly 2-4mm long and have flat, wingless bodies. They can vary in colour from light brown to yellow to grey depending on which species they are. Damalinia tend to move around a lot more than Haematopinus.


  • Check all the places outlined where it is common to find lice on a horse. Using good light, part the hair and search for eggs or the bodies themselves. The eggs will be attached to the hair, near the skin and are oval shaped and pale.


  • If you suspect horse lice but are unsure, contact a vet as they will be able to correctly diagnose the infection and outline the correct treatment methods. There are also some easy, natural treatments that can prove very effective.


  • Be especially aware of lice in the winter and spring months and keep an eye out for any of the symptoms above.



Horse Lice Treatment



Once you have diagnosed the lice in your horse, it is vital that you begin to treat it straight away. Blood sucking horse lice can be killed with an ivermectin or moxidectin oral injection. However this will not work on chewing lice. Do not be tempted to use treatments that are for human lice. These will not work.

You can buy powders which can be sprinkled on the horse and brushed in thoroughly so the treatment can get to work. There are also shampoos available which are applied just like any other usual shampoo. It is normally advisable to re-apply the treatment after a couple of weeks to prevent any unhatched eggs from causing trouble.


Here are some other methods that can be used to treat your lice infested horses:


  • De-worm your horse with a paste ivermectin wormer. If the lice infection is extremely bad then your equine vet should be able to give you something stronger than the oral paste.


  • Wash your horse with water and pyrethrin shampoo and conditioner suitable for horses. This shampoo will kill the parasites in the hair and on the skin of the horse.

  • Play the waiting game for two weeks and then wash the horse with shampoo and conditioner again to be sure that the lice are gone.

  • If the weather is bad and far too cold to wash your horse with water then you can buy a pyrethrin powder. You should work the dust down into the horse’s hair concentrating on the base of the mane, neck and face. You should also repeat this after two weeks.

  • Make sure you clean all of the brushes, blankets, pads and tack to get rid of eggs or parasites. To wash the brushes you can use the same shampoo as you applied on the horse. Throw blankets into the washing machine on the highest setting for 30 minutes then dry.

  • Keep the horse out of the pasture or stall for at least two weeks so the lice have time to die.  

Can Humans Catch Them?

Although it is possible for humans to be bitten by these creatures, you will not be in danger of being a host. Parasites such as mites are very specific about what species they live off, so it is highly unlikely that these types would be comfortable surviving on a human host; there should be no worry of this.

Natural Treatments


Are natural treatments better for your horse?

Horse lice can be very irritating and while they are not hugely common, can easily be spread through contaminated blankets, brushes and other tack. There are a number of chemical and insecticidal treatments that are very effective extermination methods, but you may worry about the health of your horse using these processes. If this is the case, there are some 100% natural treatment methods available.


  • These insects thrive on a horse that already has a weakened immune system which is why they are more common on young or sick horses; healthy adults are usually fine. The first step therefore in natural horse treatment is to try and boost the immune system. Diet is the best way to do this so make sure the horse’s diet contains plenty of water, salt minerals, hay, alfalfa, grains, good pasture and a good range of horse feed.

  • Natural horse lice treatment is not all that different from methods used to treat similar human conditions. A good natural treatment is to cover the area in an oily substance, trapping the parasites underneath. You can use mayonnaise, vegetable or olive oil for this. Cover the area and leave for roughly half an hour and brush it off. When you brush the oil off, the lice should come with it. Wash the area with grease-fighting washing up liquid to get rid of the oil and repeat every two weeks until there are no visible effects.

  • Sulphur is a very good treatment and has been used for as long as horses have been domesticated. Sulphur is non toxic and very effective at controlling any itching. To use sulphur as a natural horse lice treatment, take powdered sulphur and rub it all over any affected areas. You will need to do this every couple of days to kill the eggs as they hatch.

How To Prevent Horse Lice

How to Prevent

Here are some tips that might help you in preventing your horse from contracting lice:

  • Be sure to brush your horses on a regular basis – especially longer coats for the winter.

  • Healthy horses should not have any contact with infected horses or their blankets and tack.

  • Check a new horse for signs of lice before you introduce them to other horses.

  • Make sure that you regularly wash or clean any bedding so that levels of infestation are managed consistently.


Hopefully, this advice have been of some use to you. If you know of any other methods for spotting, treating or preventing lice in a horse, then why not contact us at [email protected]? You never know, you might just help out a friend…

For even more advice and tips on how to care for your horse, take a look at our Ultimate Care Guide.