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    Diagnosing and treating horse lice

    ArticleHow To - HealthWednesday 08 April 2015

    Like any furry mammal, horses can become infested with many different species of lice. Lice on horses are not dissimilar to lice in humans and other animals. The treatment however, is different. Equine lice can be treated fairly easily.

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



    Diagnosis of Horse Lice

    Horse lice can be roughly split into two types, sucking and biting. The sucking variety of horse lice generally appear in areas of longer hair such as the mane, tail, above the hooves and the forelock. The biting variety of horse lice are found in short haired areas such as the flanks, the neck and the base of the tail. It is generally easier to diagnose horse lice in the winter or the spring.
    First you must spot the lice on a horse and the symptoms that go with them and secondly you should contact a vet to advise you on the best course of action. This guide outlines how to diagnose horse lice.
    • The first step when you diagnose horse lice is to consider the overall health of the horse. Horse lice struggle to survive on a healthy adult horse and they are most common on horses with a weak immune system such as those that are sick, old or young. When large numbers of horses are kept together however, horse lice can affect healthy individuals.

    • To correctly diagnose horse lice you need to spot the symptoms. By far the most common symptom of horse lice is that the coat looks dull and unkempt. Patches of absent hair on the neck or the shoulders or raw skin may also point to lice on a horse. Matted hair in the mane, tail or body is another common sign of horse lice. Decreased muscle tone is one of the more symptoms of horse lice, as is anaemia which will require a blood sample.

    • There are some behavioural symptoms that can help you to diagnose horse lice as well such as itching or biting the skin. Rubbing against fences or walls may indicate lice on a horse.

    • If you suspect lice on a horse, check the animal over for them. 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 type of horse lice they are. Biting horse lice tend to move around a lot more than the sucking variety.

    • 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 lice themselves. Horse lice eggs are attached to the hair, near the skin and are oval shaped and pale.

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

    • Be especially aware of horse 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 dusts 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 is. 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 invermectin 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 lice 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 lice. 

    • 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. 


    Natural treatments to equine lice

    Horse lice can be very irritating for horses and while they are not hugely common, horse lice can easily be spread through contaminated blankets, brushes and other tack. There are a number of chemical and insecticidal treatments that are very effective horse lice treatments but you may worry about the health of your horse using these treatments, if this is the case, there are some natural horse lice treatment methods available.
    • Horse lice thrive on a horse that already has a weakened immune system which is why horse lice are more common on young or sick horses while healthy adults are usually fine. The first step therefore in natural horse lice treatments 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 natural methods used to treat human lice, although the horse lice themselves differ. A good natural horse lice treatment is to cover the area in an oily substance, trapping the horse lice 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 the lice are gone.

    • Sulphur is very good in horse lice treatments and has been used for as long as horses have been domesticated. Sulphur is non toxic and very effective at controlling the itching and repelling horse lice.

    • 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 horse lice eggs as they hatch.

    How to Prevent Horse Lice

    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 infested horses or their blankets and tack.
    • Check a new horse for horse lice before you introduce them to other horses.
    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...
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