Don't Tick Me Off! - Tips and Tricks on Removing and Preventing Tick Bites on Your Horse February 03 2016, 0 Comments

El Nino has the ticks coming out in droves here on the Nor Cal coast. Ticks like warm, moist weather, and with the drought we’ve been having, all of our recent heavy rains has encouraged them to abandon their hiding spots. Truth be told, however, ticks are an issue in much of the United States, and pose some serious risk of disease to our beloved four-legged friends. I wanted to take a minute to share some advice on how to control the tick problem this year so everyone can be more comfortable and healthy. 

Desario after receiving his first tick treatment of the season- clean tail, legs, and face.  Products in the corner are what I used (L to R): Medium Bristle Brush, Espana SILK Antiseptic Spray, Peppermint Summer Protection, and Oster Finishing Brush.

OK, they’re an issue… how can I tell if they’re biting?

For Desario, his tail is covered in crusty lesions and clumps of his tail and mane can be found on the pasture trees and on the fence posts in his paddock from itching. Not only that, I have found ticks on the backs of his legs, at the dock of his tail, and in the throatlatch area- all very common areas to find them. They often leave small circular scabs after they’ve fallen off, and many horses find their bites very itchy. Grooming carefully is a very important part of tick control, as it will help you find and identify the problem.

How do they get on my horse?

Ticks basically sit on blades of grass waving their little biting arms in the air, waiting to attach to something- whether it be a deer, your legs, your dog’s body, or your horse’s legs and tail. Ticks mostly operate by smell- so repellants can be a very effective form of prevention as long as it’s used consistently. Once they are able to get onto a warm body, they crawl around until they find a warm, moist spot to bite… and the rest is history.

What can I do about it?

Remove: First, it’s important to search your horse’s body for ticks; they generally like to bite in soft, warm areas, so try the elbows, dock of the tail, under the mane, and the throatlatch areas. Also, they tend to jump onto a horse’s legs and tail as a horse meanders through grass, so those are great areas to check as well.

The cleanest way to remove a tick is to pull on them with steady, slow pressure, and pull out directly (don’t twist!). Once removed, place the tick in a jar of soapy water so you can confirm it’s dead. Use of gloves is advised to prevent spreading of disease. There are several commercial tick removers you can look into too. I generally do it by hand, but I have some pretty mean fingernails.

Treat: This step is often skipped in most tutorials, but shouldn’t be. Tick bites can get infected, and they often are very itchy for your horse! You should address this so he doesn’t rub himself raw, or lose all his hair, like my horse.

We have several anti-itch lotions in the store, such as the Bye Bye Itch Lotion and the Not So Sweet Itch Gel that will both do a nice job reducing itch and inflammation. I also strongly recommend following up with an antiseptic- you can use something more traditional like Vetricyn, or use one of our natural antiseptics. I like using the Espana Silk Antiseptic Spray because it addresses the infection and cools the itch at the same time.

Repel: Good news here is that toxic permethrin spray isn’t your only option. There are some very effective natural tick repellents available.   I like to spray it on key areas such as the legs, base of tail, and wipe on the face as those are the most common areas that ticks will crawl onto your horse.  For the sprayed areas on the body, it's important to brush in the spray to ensure it sticks as good as possible.  Before using any pure ingredients, be sure to spot test it on your horse first; even though it’s natural, some horses may have reactions to it. Some key ingredients to look for include:

  • Neem Oil: Used for years as a natural bug repellant for livestock in India and elsewhere, therapeutic grade neem oil has been shown to be very effective a repelling ticks. A little smelly, but worth it. EquiSpa's Peppermint Summer Protection has some extra neem oil in it especially formulated for tick prevention. This is what I am using on Desario.
  • Peppermint, Eucalyptus, and Rosemary oils: These are all popular repellants and have been reported to be particularly effective against ticks (versus other insects).  Our ever popular Total Horse Protection  spray contains these oils.
  • Rose Geranium Oil: This has been reported to be very effective on dogs and humans. I have not tried this for horses, but it could be effective. I would recommend testing a very small part of your horse first to ensure that there is no allergic reaction.
  • Apple Cider Vinegar: This is generally a good insect repellant, and seems useful against ticks too. You can use it as a feed through, or mix with water and use as a spray. One of my favorite tricks is to mix the Espree Fly Spray Concentrate with organic ACV for a very effective fly and tick repellant. 

Prevent: Always key, but not necessarily possible if your horses aren't at home. Here are some tips:

  • Keep your grasses cut! The longer the grass, the easier for ticks to reach up and attach themselves to your horse.
  • Chickens and Guinea Hens: I have heard that Guinea hens have a voracious appetite for ticks. I don’t have any myself so I can’t say, but I don’t doubt it, since birds love insects. Chickens of course are always helpful for fly control in the summer since they eat the fly larvae out of horse poop, but they reportedly also enjoy tick snacks as well.

As always, thanks for reading! – D & M