A Creepy-Crawly Threat to Horse Health

A rising tick population could cause problems for your horse.

Tick populations have been increasing, and experts are predicting even higher than normal numbers in most areas of the country. Migratory birds and white-tailed deer acting as carriers have expanded the range of many tick species, while conservation efforts such as decreased reliance on insecticides and the preservation of open space have helped them thrive.

How Many Species of Ticks Are There?

There are more than 80 different species of ticks in the United States. The most dangerous species will readily feed on larger hosts when available, including humans and horses. Among these are:

  • American dog tick, occurring east of the Rockies and in limited ranges on the Pacific Coast
  • Deer tick (or black-legged tick), found widely distributed in forested areas of the eastern United States, with a related species along the Pacific Coast
  • Lone Star tick, distributed across the United States east of Central Texas
  • Rocky Mountain wood tick, ranging through the Rocky Mountain states

Dangers Ticks Present to Horses

Even a tick that isn’t transmitting disease can cause discomfort for horses. Symptoms of horses suffering from tick feeding include skin irritation, hair loss, restlessness and general crankiness.

The diseases that ticks carry are even more hazardous. Common tick species feed on multiple hosts in a season, picking up potentially deadly diseases and bacteria that can then be transmitted to horses, including:

  • Tularemia
  • Anaplasmosis (Equine ehrlichiosis)
  • Equine piroplasmosis (Babesiosis)
  • Lyme disease
  • Rocky Mountain spotted fever
  • Tick paralysis

Environments Ticks Thrive In

Ticks do not like open, sunlit environments and prefer shaded, moist areas. Taking control measures such as keeping pastures open, keeping vegetation outside of fence lines, cutting shrubbery, etc., are highly recommended.

Most of the ticks affecting horses come from wild animals, particularly the rodent and deer populations. There are a record number of deer this year, especially in the eastern half of the country and along the Pacific Coast.

Controlling Ticks to Prevent Infection

Prevention of tick feeding and limiting the time ticks have to feed is an essential part of tick control — the longer a tick remains attached to its host, the better the chances of disease transmission.