I received a question the other night – “How do you get rid of Lice?”
Strangely, I was putting this weeks article together…about lice in our horses, how funny.
So anyway here it is…
I usually find that nearing the end of winter into spring is when I find lice appearing on horses. Believe me, it doesn’t matter how well cared for a horse is, they still get lice…some worse than others.
Lice are tiny parasitic insects that live in the hair coat of horses. Lice are species-specific, meaning that bird lice generally won’t live on people or dogs, horse lice don’t typically infect people. You’re not likely to get lice from your horse or pass them on to your cat. Lice infestations can be but are not necessarily an indication of poor care and/or poor nutrition. They can be common in stables like training stables and racing stables, where close quarters and shared equipment make the spread of lice easy. They can also be found on our horses that are turned out for the winter in the paddock, they don’t have to be stabled to pick up lice and they simply love dwelling on a hairy, rug covered horse, lice are not partial to sunlight, the darker and hairier the better for them.
Lice are flat-bodied insects. When they are fully grown, they are only 2 to 4 millimeters in length. In horses, they tend to breed in the thick coats that the horse will grow during the winter months. They can live in all over the horse’s body, including the mane, tail, and coat.
The two species of lice that impact horses are Haematopinus asini (H. asini), the horse sucking type, and Damalinia equi (D. equi), the horse biting type. Both types of lice are seen around the world. The lice are transferred from horse to horse by direct contact or through shared brushes, blankets, and equipment.
- Irritated skin
- Visible raw patches on the skin
- Rough hair coat
The horse will be intensely itchy, especially around the base of the tail, mane, and head, although the lice may be all over the horse. As the horse tries to relieve the itching by rubbing itself on fences, trees, or stall walls, it can rub raw patches into its skin. It’s possible for a horse to be so uncomfortable that it will appear listless or colicky.
Sometimes, one or two horses within a herd will be more infested than the others. The others may or may not have lice, but the individuals that the lice seem to like will be more affected. A horse that is very badly infested with lice will become very run down. If the horse is infested with the sucking louse, blood loss may be severe enough to cause anemia. Winter and early spring are when lice are most evident, as the horse has a long hair coat for the lice to live in. Additionally, lice prefer dark and avoid bright sunshine.
- Physical contact with another lice-infected animal
- Using equipment or tools that are lice-infected
Depending on the type of lice, the parasites will either suck the horse’s blood or feed off of dead skin cells. The lice lay eggs called nits in the horse’s hair coat and mane. These nits will hatch into nymphs that mature into egg-laying adults. Both nymphs and adults will cause the itching associated with lice.
Typically, horses that are underweight or in poorer condition are more susceptible to lice infestations. Horses in good health have a stronger immune system and can usually fight off an infestation unless they are housed in stressed or poor conditions.
The first step is to treat the horse itself with either a topical de-lousing powder or a veterinarian-administered louse medication. Common treatments are permethrin-based dust, shampoos, or rinses. Be cautious with applying treatment to any skin that may be irritated as that can cause further problems. When applying any medication powder, take care not to inhale it, and to wash up after you apply it. When using the powder, it’s important to make sure the powder penetrates right down to the horse’s skin. Wear gloves and a dust mask to avoid contact with the chemicals.
All equipment that could carry lice or nits must be washed as well. Blankets and washable equipment can be laundered and dried with high heat, or boiled.
There are a few treatments you can use however, me being me, I try and stick with something more natural or with the least amount of poisonous chemicals in them. I used to use Pestene Powder on any horse that cropped up with lice. I had good results with it, I used as directed. I actually thought that Derris – Pestene is produced from was quite safe but evidently not. It was considered a “natural pesticide” although that doesn’t mean it’s safe! There are lots of natural things out there that can kill you after all. I later discovered it was quite toxic and can damaged the stomach (both horse and human), however, in the pool of other treatments it was the better of all the evils at the time.
Chemical free treatments
Good old fashioned Yellow Sulphur powder works to get rid of the little buggers. Take the top off a talc container, empty the contents and fill with sulphur powder that you have put through a sieve to get out all the lumps. You want the powder all over the horse (not as easy as it sounds) – but I was once told my an old timer friend of mine to especially focus on under and through the mane, under and all through the forelock, along the topline or the back of the horse and very thoroughly through and around and under the tail – making sure that the powder gets to the roots of the hair.
Wear a simple mask from the chemist – you don’t want that stuff in your lungs. PS: You don’t want human talc powder in your lungs either so don’t use it on yourself lol. Talcum powder is not good for your skin or your lungs.
Neem oil important note:
If you want to use Neem oil know that it is a natural contraceptive, wear gloves if you want to get pregnant, I wouldn’t use on anything but geldings for that reason so it won’t suit you if you have breeding stock. – A natural contraceptive … permanent or temporary I don’t know?
Dilute a teaspoon to 500ml WARM water (neem oil cools into a soft solid oil and clogs up the nozzle if you use cold water.)
Spray the whole horse with the neem oil mixture, paying special attention to wetting the underneath of the mane and forelock and through the mane and forelock making sure the roots of the hair is wet as well as the length – also along the top of the back and very thoroughly all around the tail area. If it’s washing weather, you can put 2 teaspoons of neem oil into a bucket of warm water and wash the horse.
You can also use neem oil by mixing it with coconut oil – 1 teaspoon of neem oil to a small jar of coconut oil – warm both oils up by standing the jar in hot water or take the lid off and put the mixture into the microwave to melt the coconut oil. Shaking to mix and allowing to cool back into the solid oil that coconut oil is in the colder weather. This is a good, sneaky way of using the neem oil on horses that freak out with having anything “sprayed” on them with a sprayer. I prefer using it in the cooled coconut oil because I reckon this oil mixture would help suffocate the little suckers.
Neem oil changes the hormones of the insect so that they cannot breed – then when they die that’s the end of them. Please DO NOT use this stuff in your garden as it will also kill or at very least have your bees that are critical for pollinating your fruit, veggies and flowers in the garden and other beneficial insects sterile!!!
Diatomaceous Earth is an effective remedy for lice in horses and fleas in dogs. It is also an organic (also called fossil shell powder) which helps to clean out the accumulated build-up of waste in our own digestive tract. Simply add a tablespoon twice a day to water, juice or into a smoothie. Or sprinkle it onto food. It has no flavour and is completely free of any additives, preservatives, fillers, sugars or artificial sweeteners. As for the lice problem you sprinkle that through their coat – again paying special attention under the mane and forelock and along the back and rubbing it in everywhere else that you can get the stuff to stay there. And again wearing a mask from the chemist.
Keeping it simple and leaving out a lot of fancy words, Diatomaceous Earth kills the insect by drying out the outside bits of their body.
Make sure that you get the fine food grade Diatomaceous Earth. Don’t let anyone sell you the coarse stuff – it doesn’t work.
The life cycle of a louse is about 2 weeks, so making sure that Neem Oil and Diatomaceous Earth are still in the horse’s coat and rugs and brushes etc – or re-apply if there is no powder left in the coat.
Diatomaceous Earth is great stuff to use for the clean-up that is an incredibly important part of making sure that you don’t have to do this whole lice clean up over and over again.
So the dreaded clean up:
EVERY horse – even if they show no signs of lice – EVERY horse who could have touched noses or brushed tails even across the fence gets treated. There is nothing more annoying than having to go through all of this again…EVERY rug, EVERY brush, EVERY saddle blanket EVERY bit of gear.
All of these things treat with Neem Oil OR dust with Diatomaceous Earth or both – soak them in a bucket of diluted neem oil for the day. Diluted Neem oil sprayed inside rugs and on saddle pads.
Then we need to dust all the places where the horses rub around the farm – Diatomaceous Earth because the Neem Oil fades away in efficacy in sunlight – otherwise the horses will just have them back again next month after they scratch on that post…
Where the horse has rubbed themselves raw – I use the neem and coconut oil combination. You could also choose to use something like paw paw cream on where they have rubbed themselves raw. Any lice or eggs under the paw paw would be gone anyway – smothered to death.
And if a horse is debilitated by lice, i.e thin and lost weight, then look at boosting their immune system – look at mineral deficiencies in your area, add some fresh garlic to their feed.
If you bring a new horse home, it should be kept separate from other horses to see if there are any problems that might get passed on to the resident herd. In a busy barn, it’s a good idea that each horse has its own brushes and equipment because shared grooming tools and blankets can spread many skin problems including lice, ringworm, and mange. If you suspect your horse is sick, call your vet immediately.
Don’t forget to email me in your questions you might have on training your horse. You never know, your question may be picked as the best and if it is chosen, you will get a free copy of my book From Go To Whoa! Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org
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Training Your Own Horse