How to Protect Your Horse against Ticks

February 27, 2020

How to Protect Your Horse against Ticks


Who knew such small creatures could wreak such havoc? Ticks are every horse keeper’s nightmare. These blood-sucking creepy crawlies are a menace to livestock and a pain to prevent. Not only that, one bite could cause your horse to get sick making you spend more than it took to keep these creepers away.

Scientifically classified as Arachnida — also including spiders. Records suggest that these buggers have been around for more than 90 million years. These arachnids require blood to complete their life cycles. Most bites don’t transmit any harmful microbes but there are, however, a variety of tick-borne diseases.

Ticks are vectors of diseases for animals and humans. They transmit viruses to a variety of hosts; some can even cause economic harm such as bovine babesiosis, more commonly known as 'Texas Fever' in cattle that kills up to 90% of nurslings cows. Ticks act as carriers for microbes in their mouth when they transmit their secretions into the horse’s skin and blood.

According to, ticks prefer warm, moist areas of the body. Once a tick gets on your body, they’re likely to migrate to your armpits, groin, or hair. When they’re in a desirable spot, they bite into your skin and begin drawing blood. Unlike most varieties of insects that bite, ticks normally remain attached to your horse's body after snacking on them. It's easy to identify whether or not your horse is suffering from a horse infestation because the tick stays attached to them. After a period of up to ten days of drawing blood from your horse, an engorged tick will detach itself and eventually fall off.

It’s an unpleasant feeling to find out that your horse is covered in ticks. These small yet annoying creatures come in hoards and bring unwanted diseases to farm animals. Aside from causing skin irritation, they also bring bacterial infections and small abscesses.


Tick-borne diseases

There are three primary tick-borne diseases that horse owners need to look out for:

  • Lyme disease is transmitted to horses by ticks hosting the infective organism Borrelia burgdorferi. The Ixodes scapularis, found in the northern and eastern parts of the United States, transmits the infective organism, and the variety located in the western areas is called the Ixodes pacificus. Both types are colloquially known as "deer ticks" and "eastern or western black-legged ticks." Lyme disease affects horses as well as dogs, and cats. Lyme disease symptoms vary highly and can be challenging to diagnose because of how these symptoms may or may not manifest. Symptoms include stiffness, lameness in one or more legs, muscle tenderness, atrophy, lethargy, behavioral changes, general dullness, skin sensitivity making it painful to touch, and rapid weight loss. Severe altercations can cause neuroborreliosis and uveitis. However, joint swelling shouldn't be an issue with horses. Lyme Disease is the wildcard of tick-borne diseases. Some horse may have benign symptoms, others take a turn for the worse and develop neurological disorders, and some others may relapse years later without warning. 


  • Equine piroplasmosis is an umbrella term for horses with a Babesia caballi or Theileria equi (formerly called Babesia equi) infection. Both these blood parasites are transmitted by multiple tick species. Infected horses have little to no clinical signs. These symptoms include mild to general weakness, rapid shallow breathing, depression, weight loss, jaundice, lack of appetite, dark-colored urine, and in some cases, spontaneous abortion in pregnant mares. In more acute phases, horses tend to have high fevers (over 104F), secretion of pale or yellow mucous membranes, and lower limb swelling. The disease can affect horses, mules, donkeys, and zebras.


  • Equine granulocytic anaplasmosis is transmitted by deer ticks but caused by a different bacteria than that causing Lyme disease. It tends to occur in young horses, often under four years of age. Signs of illness don't frequently appear for eight to fourteen days after the infected tick feeds off the horse. Symptoms include a high fever (over 104F), depression, weak appetite, moderate limb edema (swelling), stumbling, and ataxia (the loss of full control of bodily movements). According to "the agent of equine granulocytic anaplasmosis, Anaplasma phagocytophilum, can cause clinical disease in humans, too, but then it is called human granulocytic anaplasmosis."


These tick-borne diseases are diagnosed via blood testing. If you notice that your horse exhibits any of these symptoms, call your veterinarian immediately for a blood test. Antibiotics are the primary source of treatment for horses suffering from anaplasmosis and Lyme disease. But with piroplasmosis, treatment is based on the species of parasite involved. However, the drugs used have unpropitious side effects, and a conclusive cure is unlikely.


Protecting horses from ticks

Aside from controlling the environment where horses live by curtailing exposure to a tick habitat, specific direct measures must be taken to prevent ticks from infesting your horses. The most important thing for you to do is to inspect your horse daily to find and remove ticks as soon as they appear. The less time a tick is attached to a horse, the smaller the chance for disease transmission. In fact, some horse keepers report that tick removal within 24 hours is key to the prevention of infection, mainly of Lyme disease.

Skin checks are equally as important for horses who frequent deep grassy areas and wooded trails. Use both yours eyes and hands to find ticks on your horse particularly along the belly, groin, mane, tail chin, and arm pits. Ticks have the ability to attach themselves anywhere they want provided there's skin they can bite, but they particularly like the softer and less hairy areas of the horse, which are often not as well protected.

Be careful when removing ticks. To avoid leaving behind any of its mouth accessories, stuck in your horse's skin. Use a pair of tweezers to grasp the tick's mouth parts and get as close to the surface as possible. Apply gentle traction without twisting, and the ticks should pop right off. Check that you have indeed removed all mouth parts and the head.

Currently, there is no vaccine against Lyme Disease, but there is ongoing research to decipher if it's safe to use canine Lyme disease vaccines on equines.

Send some live ticks to the lab to test for Lyme Disease. That way, you can take pre-emptive measures for your horse before any symptoms show up. Consult with your veterinarian about the logistics of carrying this out. Destroy all the other ticks in open flame, immersing them in a jar filled with alcohol or formalin or by simply flushing them down the toilet.


Tick prevention

Standard methods for tick prevention are insecticides, such as permethrin or cypermethrin. Alternatives for industrial-strength chemicals are wipe-on, or spray products such as shampoos or powders applied to a horse's coat. Helpful as they are, these products don't guarantee total protection from ticks from attaching, biting, or transmitting diseases to your horse. Topical medication is effective only for the duration of the chemical acting as a repellant. However, said repellant wears off in four to six hours.

Another option for pest control would be Malathion spray, but you need to dilute it before you use it. Malathion is an insecticide in the chemical family known as organophosphates. It's highly accessible as you can purchase it at any home or garden store, but remember, you can't use it directly from the bottle. You HAVE to dilute it. Most instructions say one part malathion to 32 parts water.

And as always, check with your veterinarian if it's alright to be spraying insecticides on or near your horses. Only apply when you have the go signal.


Natural methods of prevention

For those of you that are worried about using chemicals on your horses, fear not! There are natural solutions. On the upside, it’s better for your horse. On the downside, it takes a lot more effort to apply because you need to do it daily. It’s a small price to pay for keeping your horse healthy and tick free.


1. Combat ticks with oils



There are different types of oils, both edible and for flavoring. Not only are they good for health, but many of their scents are a natural repellent for ticks. Here are two recipes:


✔ Olive oil and essential oils

You will need:

  • 50 milliliters of olive oil
  • Rosemary oil
  • Thyme oil
  • Lavender oil
  • Eucalyptus oil
  • An atomizer

Preparing your home remedy is very easy: add 50 milliliters of olive oil in the atomizer and add between 10 and 15 drops of essential oils. Spray in areas where ticks are often located, avoiding the eyes and snout of the horse. It also sprinkles the spaces of the stable.


✔ Olive oil and alcohol

You will need:

  • 20 milliliters of olive oil
  • 1 liter of alcohol
  • Atomizer

Mix the alcohol and olive oil into the atomizer and spray on the affected areas.


2. Fight ticks with lemons



The properties of lemon are innumerable. Among its various uses and applications, it is the main ingredient in two solutions against ticks on horses:


✔ Aloe vera and lemon juice

You will need:

  • 2 lemons
  • 4 leaves of aloe (aloe vera)
  • Sodium bicarbonate
  • Table salt
  • An atomizer

The first thing to do is squeeze the lemons as hard as you can to extract as much juice as possible. Next, peel the leaves of the aloe. Ideally, at the cuts on the side, where you will see a division, extract the glass (the slimey substance it contains). Wash the aloe vera glass with a little water and place in the atomizer, along with the lemon juice.

To this preparation add 6 spoonfuls of salt and 2 of baking soda. Shake well and spray on the ticks of your horse, letting it dry.


✔ Lemon, essential oils, and apple cider vinegar

You will need:

  • A lemon
  • Apple cider vinegar
  • Alcohol
  • Aromatic oils (lavender, rosemary, cedar, etc.)
  • Water
  • An atomizer

In a pot, bring 4 cups of water to the boil with a tablespoon of apple cider vinegar and half a tablespoon of alcohol. Squeeze the lemon and then add about 10 drops of the essential oils. Stir the preparation until it boils and let it cool. Pour in the atomizer and spray on the horse.


3. Manage your land as much as possible



Keeping your grounds as clean as you can help to eradicate spots where ticks can thrive.

  • Remove debris such as dead leaves, cut grass, litter, or other trash, lying around the edges of the pasture. Your horse should be grazing in a clean zone because ticks like to hide in the grass.
  • Create buffer zones and keep your pasture areas away from trails. Separate the "safe space" from the wild areas. Ten feet should be good enough.
  • Don't let horses graze outside of your pasture. Avoid letting them graze in the woods or other uncontrolled environments.
  • Avoid storing grain in containers; otherwise, you'll attract tick bearing critters into your areas. Keep your grains sealed off outside of the grazing premises.
  • Feeding wildlife is a no-no. They'll keep coming back for more and bring their pests with them, which will eventually infect your horse.
  • Hire someone to clean up the land. It saves you so much time and money.



It's worth the energy keeping ticks off you and your horse. Tick prevention prevents disease in your horse, and you'll be less likely to get sick too!

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