This week we talk about the small and nasty bugs that we all know as chewing or biting lice. Mostly during winter or beginning of spring or during the change of coat, our horses suffer from lice infestations. So what are biting lice, why do they infest our horses and what can we do to fight them off?
Your horse is restless and a bit on the edge, it is scratching itself a lot and while you are brushing it, you find tons of white dandruff. And then, all of sudden, you see something moving in the long hair of the mane. The diagnosis is clear: your horse is infested with biting lice.
What are biting lice?
Biting lice are really just lice. They prefer to nest on the horses crest or dock where it is hard for us to spot them. If not treated, they rapidly spread all over the horse and your horse has hairless spots in its thick winter coat.
The female lice lay their eggs in the long hair or coat of the horse where they form so-called nits. Soon after the larvae hatch and grow into light brown adult lice. The biting lice feed on dander and scurf, hair and skin crusts which they readily find in the coat and long hair of our horses.
The biting lice we find on our horses are not contagious for us just for other horses, dogs and cats. If they get stuck on a horse brush, they can stay alive for a couple days but die if they do not find a new host to live on.
How do I know that my horse has biting lice?
Your horse is often restless and a bit edgy and scratches itself a lot. The itching is the most obvious sign that your horse has lice. If you find lots of dander and scurf, maybe some small white eggs while brushing and see small light brown bugs crawling up and down your horse, you can be sure that your horse is infested with biting lice.
As the horse is constantly scratching itself, the skin starts breaking and becomes prone to secondary infections. If your horse starts loosing hair all over its body, then the lice infestation has spread and it is high time to take action.
The itching is caused by the lice crawling around in the coat which makes your horse restless which then causes stress. As a result of this stress, your horse can also rapidly lose weight.
What are the reasons for lice infestation in horses?
The little bugs like it warm and cozy. During winter and beginning of spring, they find shelter in the thick coat of our horses. Young or old horses with a weak immune system are some of their favourite hosts as well as horses that are already sick. Bad and insufficient grooming, dirty stalls and bedding as well as a humid environment are also reasons for lice infestation in horses. And maybe it is also time to check the deworming routine. Horses with worms also have a weak immune system and can be prone to lice infestations.
What can you do?
Groom and brush your horse regularly so that you can check for dander and scurf and lice. Please also make sure that each horse has its own grooming box and brushes. If lice are caught in a brush, they can easily be transferred onto other horses if you share your grooming accessories.
What you feed your horse during the cold winter months is also very important to strengthen its immune system. Make sure that your horse receives sufficient minerals - zinc for example is very important for healthy skin.
If your horse is already infested with lice, call your vet. He will give you an antiparasitic which kills the adult lice. As it does not kill the eggs, you will have to repeat treatment after app. 2 weeks.
Does your horse live in herd? Please make sure that the other horses are also regularly checked for lice and are treated if necessary.
Some say that vinegar helps against lice, too. Dap pure vinegar on the infested spots. It seems lice do not like the smell and taste of vinegar. If your horse is heavily infested, please do not rely on alternative medicine but call your vet. Lice carry the virus for amaenia so we need to get rid of them!
And do not forget to really clean everything like stable and riding clothes, rugs, saddle blankets, grooming accessories etc. so that the nasty bugs are not transferred onto other horse, dogs or cat.
Do you have any secret recipes against lice? Leave us a comment!
Til' next week, Nicole