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Lice in horses

Lice on horses; an irritating problem for the horse as well as its owner. Horses do not like the itch and therefore you see them trying all sorts of ways to get rid of the itch. Unfortunately this does not affect the lice and the horses develop chafe marks, in serious cases until they bleed. Baroque horses are more affected by lice than any others. This has a very simple explanation: they have a longer coat in which the lice like to hide.


Two different sorts of lice

There are two different sorts of lice which can affect horses; the sucking louse ‘Haematopinus asini’ and the biting louse ‘Werneckiella equi’. In addition, horses can also be affected by the leg scabies mite.

The bloodsucking louse of horses (Haematopinus asini)

The sucking louse on horses can be recognised by the larger body of the louse that is larger than his head. This sucking louse feeds himself on horses’ blood and feeds mainly on the horses’ tail and mane.

The biting louse of horses (Werneckiella equi)

The biting louse is the more active of the two. These lice are much more active and move more through the horses’ coats. You can recognise these lice because their heads are larger than their bodies. They live mainly at the ribs, neck, withers and breast. They can live up to 4 to 5 weeks once they get onto the horse. They cannot eat in the stable or paddock, so if they fail to get onto a horse, they will starve to death within a few days.

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How do you recognise lice and mites on horses?

When your horse is affected by lice you will see that the horse has an itch. This itch can occur anywhere on the body. When it concerns the sucking louse, your horse will mainly chafe at its mane and tail. When it is the biting louse, your horse will mainly chafe its ribs, withers and neck.

You can also see white dots in the coat; these are the eggs (nits). In the case of mites, the horse will try to bite into its socks or you will see the horse stamping its feet.


Lice season
Lice on the horses occur mainly in the winter. Horses have a thick winter coat which lice like a lot because it’s warm and comfy. If your horse is very itchy during the summer, this can be caused by summer itch (sweet itch) or an allergy to flies


Unfortunately lice and mites in horses are infectious. This means that one horse can transmit lice to other horses. This happens especially in winter.

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Diagnosing lice
Usually you can assess yourself whether or not you horse has lice and/or mites, certainly when you find the white dots (nits) in the coat. If you are unsure, consult your vet to make sure your horse is suffering with a mites problem.

Why is it so difficult to treat lice in horses?

Because lice hide in the horse’s coat, they are not only difficult to spot; it is also difficult to get at them with washes or sprays. Also, some pesticides are effective in eradicating lice, but they do not remove the eggs. When these eggs hatch, you will still have lice to deal with.

It is also possible for lice to hide in the horse’s stable or harness like saddlepad, brushes and blankets. If you have not treated these, it is still possible for the lice to get onto the horse.

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