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Ticks in horses: what about that?

Ticks occur in the summer, when it is warm and dry. They mainly live in long grass and shrubbery. A tick can go a year without food and then just wait for a cow, horse, deer or human to pass by. Then the tick bites itself and starts sucking blood, up to 600x its own weight! Some ticks transmit diseases. Protecting your horse against ticks is quite difficult. It is wise to regularly check your horse for ticks. In addition, you can put herbs and essential oils through the horse feed to make the blood unpalatable for these annoying critters.

What is a tick?

Ticks are arachnid critters with eight legs. The sheep tick (Ixodus ricinus) is most common in our country. This tick bites people, sheep, cows and also horses. Ticks bite to suck blood, because they need that blood to grow. Ticks go through different moults or metamorphoses, where they become a bit bigger. For each molt they need the proteins from blood. The adult females also need blood to lay eggs. The sheep tick can transmit diseases by sucking blood. This especially happens if the tick is attached to its ‘host’ for more than 24 hours.

Lyme disease

Lyme disease is the best known disease transmitted by ticks. But ticks also sometimes carry lesser-known conditions such as Anaplasmosis and Piroplasmosis. In recent years you also occasionally hear about ‘exotic’ tick species from the Mediterranean that are found on horses. These species are advancing due to climate change, but they are still very rare in the Netherlands and Belgium. The sheep tick remains the most important tick species in horses for the time being. Horses can also contract Lyme disease, just like humans. This can be shown in the blood, but is not always immediately noticeable in your horse. Sometimes the symptoms do not arise until after the tick bite. Symptoms of Lyme disease include: Fever, weight loss, joint inflammation and lameness, myalgia, lethargy, moonblind, meningitis and spontaneous abortion in pregnant mares. Sometimes horse owners are diagnosed with ‘Lyme’ if the horse has had ‘vague symptoms’ for a while. A solid course of antibiotics is the most commonly used medication.

Check your horse

Once a tick has engorged itself, it is usually easy to see. Horses standing in long grass or near trees are at a higher risk of a tick bite. Your horse can also get a tick on an outdoor ride. Try to check your horse every day. Fortunately, not all ticks are infected with the Borrelia bacterium, which transmits Lyme disease. In the Netherlands, an average of 20% of ticks are infected. There are, however, major differences: in some places half of the ticks are infected with Borrelia, in other places almost none. In humans, about 2 in 100 bites are known to result in Lyme disease.

Remove tick from horse

If your horse has a tick, it is wise to remove it as soon as possible. The shorter the tick is on your horse, the less chance that pathogens will be transmitted. You remove a tick with tweezers or special tick tweezers. If you have long nails, that’s also possible… Grasp the tick as close to the skin as possible and pull gently. It is important that you get the whole head with you. You don’t have to turn, as is sometimes thought. Treat the spot where the tick was, if necessary, with disinfectant, but never do this before removing the tick. In response to the disinfectant, the tick can inject junk into the bite wound. Only disinfect after removal!

Preventing ticks?

Unfortunately, tick bites are difficult to prevent. No sprays or drops have been approved for horses that you can apply to the coat. Because ticks are so very small in the first stages of life, it is also very difficult to quickly detect a tick in a horse. Fortunately, you can use herbs to repel insects and ticks. The blood of your horse then becomes less tasty for these animals. A herbal mixture containing, among other things, fenugreek, echina, thyme and citronella makes your horse unattractive.


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