Has your equine buddy been squirming around lately? It’s possible that they’re suffering from some horse lice.
Lice in horses can be super annoying, and cause skin irritation and hair loss. Don’t worry too much, though, because it’s pretty easy to prevent – and treat!
Put on your gloves, and let’s jump into the world of lice in horses. We break down the do’s, don’ts, and everything you need to know about lice infestations. Bet you’re itching to get started!
What Are Lice In Horses?
You’ve probably heard all about lice, and maybe when you were a kid, experienced it yourself! But you probably didn’t know that they can hop on your horse, too. Lice are small bugs that can infest the coat and skin of your horse, causing some major irritation and itchiness. When these annoying bugs make a home on your horse, they can cause a lice infestation.
These tiny creatures survive and grow by either sucking blood from horses or biting their skin. Lice multiply quickly – that’s right, you can go from one to a hundred really quickly.
Adult lice lay eggs (nits) on the horse’s hair. This whole birthing process of lice can take a few weeks, but they still spread pretty quickly.
Horses can be infected with different kinds of lice, such as biting lice and sucking lice.
How Are Lice Spread?
Lice infestations in horses are usually spread through close contact with the affected horse. When an adult louse hops on over to a healthy horse, it lays eggs in the horse’s hair coat. When the lice nymphs hatch, they begin feeding on the horse’s blood, which, as you can imagine, isn’t too fun.
Lice can jump from one horse to another as the infected horse walks around and interacts with other horses. This usually happens a lot when horses are close together for long periods of time, like in shared pastures or barns. Lice infestations are pretty common in young horses housed together.
Lice bites can cause itching. Infected horses rub against things or scratch themselves a lot, which can also cause the lice to spread. These lice infestations can’t be spread to humans, and human lice can’t spread to horses. Lice are actually species-specific. But lice can still hop from a horse to a human, to another horse! That’s right, you can be a way of transport for them, so watch out.
Neglected horses or those living in unfortunate circumstances are more vulnerable to severe infestations.
Lice visible in this horse’s coat
Types of Equine Lice
Chewing lice (also called biting lice) are lice that feed by biting and chewing on your horse’s skin and hair. The lice infestation of these annoying chewers can spread through direct contact with other affected horses.
What they look like
Biting lice are usually around 1mm, and can be seen with the naked eye if you look carefully. They are wingless insects that live in horses’ hair and skin. These lice have flattened bodies and are light brown. They also have some strong chompers designed for biting on your horse’s coat, skin, and blood. You can find them on the head, neck, and mane of your infested horse, where the hair is thinner.
How they affect your horse
When a horse is suffering from this type of lice infestation, things are bound to get uncomfortable. Lice on the horse’s skin can cause severe irritation, resulting in a very itchy horse. Constant scratching and rubbing might even cause hair loss! The affected horse’s skin becomes inflamed, resulting in flaky skin or scaly spots. The horse’s skin can show some heavy symptoms of irritation, or even sores, in a severe infestation.
These lice infest horses and feed on their blood. They have pretty special mouths that let them pierce the horse’s skin and suck up some blood for breakfast. They rely on blood as their primary source of nutrition. For horses, lice that suck their blood are a little uncomfortable, at the very least.
What they look like
The blood-sucking louse looks almost identical to the chewing kind – small bugs that are light brown in colour. They infect horses similarly and make their skin intensely itchy; the difference is that they are slightly bigger and well, easier to spot!
How they affect your horse
As these lice suck on your horse’s body for blood, they can irritate the skin, bringing your buddy some annoying pain in the process. Because your horse will try and scratch a lot, also resulting in hair loss and dry skin. The frequent scratching can cause dead skin on the horse. These lice do have a favourite horse they like to chow on – long, feathered horses – they make for great hiding spots!
Preventing Lice In Horses
Prevention before treatment is the golden key. There are some ways to protect your furry friends in advance, so take notes:
- Keep them groomed! It helps to get into a routine; just make sure you’re using clean grooming brushes, or it’s kind of pointless. Regular brushing is great to remove dirt and possible lice nits from your horse’s hair. Watch our grooming guide here
- Keep an eye on new horses. When you’re getting ready to introduce a new horse to the stables, stop for a second before letting them get friendly with the other horses. In fact, it’s best to isolate them all together for a little bit and check them regularly for lice during this period.
- Hygiene. If you’re busy handling unknown horses that you’re not used to, it’s better to be safe than sorry. Wear gloves, and don’t share grooming equipment between horses, as this could be the lice contact horses suffer from later on. Also, keep your environment clean by disinfecting stalls, blankets, and grooming tools.
- Lower contact. Try and lower direct contact between horses and other animals. You probably want all your fuzzy friends to get along, but this is the best way to make sure one horse doesn’t carry lice to another.
- Regular inspections. Different lice types affect horses in different ways. Keep a close eye on all of your horse’s hairs and make sure there isn’t any raw skin. Do this weekly, and also look for signs of itching and hair loss.
Treating Lice in Horses
If you haven’t been able to prevent your horses from getting lice, don’t stress. There are lots of lice treatments for horses, but you must act quickly before it spreads further. First off, let’s actually make sure your horse has lice and it’s not something else. Carefully inspect the horse’s hair and skin to find lice or eggs before making any treatment moves.
If you find some, choose a lice treatment recommended by your horse vet. There are so many options to choose from – sprays, shampoos, and powders are just a few, so don’t go rushing to old home remedies like peanut butter (this won’t work to kill lice, by the way!). To make sure these annoying bugs don’t come back, treat all of the infected horses at the same time.
But don’t pack away the meds just yet – sometimes your horse might need a second round of treatment if it’s serious. Another round helps get rid of any stubborn lice or eggs that didn’t disappear the first time around. Just make sure you follow the treatment plan set out by your vet and don’t rush into the second session too soon.
If you’re dealing with lice infestations in early spring or while horses still have thick hair, you should probably trim their long winter coats. This will definitely help stop the spread, make them easier to spot, and easier to kill.
How do I know if my horse has lice?
There are usually some simple tell-tale signs, like raw skin, hair loss, and when they start trying to itch themselves against objects all the time.
What do lice look like?
Lice can be kind of difficult to spot with the naked eye; you’re going to need to take the time out to properly inspect your horse’s hair. They’re small, light-brown bugs that are generally between 1mm – 2mm in size.
Can lice cause serious health problems for my horse?
Lice can be painful and irritating and cause some major itches. However, they do not generally lead to any serious health conditions for your horse. Talk to your vet if you’re feeling a little uneasy or if the situation worsens.