Lice on Horses
Lice on horses in Ontario are not common but questions arise about treatment. Both sucking and biting lice can affect horses. The chewing louse, Bovicola equi, feeds off tissue and cells sloughed from the surface of the skin. The sucking louse of horses, Haematopinus asini, feeds off blood. The species of lice is important since it is easier to kill sucking lice with a systemic insecticide than it is to kill biting lice. Lice cause intense itching (pruritus) around the base of the tail, head and mane. Horses will rub themselves raw.
Lice are normally species-specific. However, the chewing lice of poultry can also affect horses when housed together. The horses should be removed from the building. If the poultry is removed, the lice will continue to harass the horses unless a good cleanup and premise insecticide treatment is used.
Lice and their Life Cycle:
Lice undergo a simple life cycle. They transform from egg to nymph to adult with the entire cycle being completed on the host. The chewing louse is about 1/10 of an inch long, chestnut brown in color, with a yellow abdomen with dark cross bands. They are flat with a broad, rounded head and slender legs. The eggs are attached to the hair and hatch in 5 to 10 days. Nymphs immediately start feeding and mature in 3 to 4 weeks.
The sucking louse is about 1/8 of an inch long and a dirty grey color. They have a broad abdomen which contrasts with their long narrow head. Sucking lice are more common and more irritating than chewing lice. They have piercing mouth parts. When present in large numbers, they can cause anemia. The eggs are attached to the hair and hatch 11 to 20 days later. Nymphs begin sucking blood immediately. They complete their life cycle in 2 to 4 weeks.
Control and Treatment:
Transmission of lice is by direct contact between horses and through contact with infected brushes, blankets and tack. Successful control requires that equipment is cleaned thoroughly with the same insecticide as used on the horses. The cleaning should be repeated in two weeks. Sterilization of equipment by boiling will also kill the lice, nymphs and eggs as will placing blankets and coolers in the drier at the highest heat setting.
The only approved products for the treatment of horses with lice are the powder products, Dusting Powder and Sevin. All other products are used in an off-label, or extra-label, manner and the veterinarian is required to re-label the product, providing directions for use, e.g. the route of administration and frequency as well as human and animal precautions associated with the product.
Choice of treatment will vary depending on time of year, ambient temperature and the number of horses being treated. Your veterinarian will provide you with the best treatment option.
For more information:
Toll Free: 1-877-424-1300