How can I protect my horse from ticks this summer?

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  • You bring your horse in from a relaxing day in the field and whilst brushing him over you find a tick buried in his coat…

    Jessica May, lead vet at the video vet service FirstVet, provides her advice on what you should do and how you can keep your horse tick free this summer.

    What problems can ticks cause for my horse?

    “When a tick latches onto your horse, the skin where the tick has attached itself can become irritated or infected,” explains Jessica. “This occurs in around 80% of cases. In extreme cases, a large number of ticks can even cause anaemia in horses, or compromise the immune system, but this is very rare.

    “However, ticks can transmit a variety of potentially dangerous diseases, including: Lyme Disease, Babesiosis, Anaplasmosis, Bartonellosis, Q-fever and Louping ill virus. If a tick is carrying one of these diseases, then it can be transmitted to your horse from the tick’s saliva as it feeds.”

    How can I prevent ticks from attaching to my horse?

    “Tick prevention requires diligence,” adds Jessica. “Check your horse twice daily for ticks and, if found, remove them promptly. Application of tick-specific repellents is also recommended. These should be applied to your horse’s mane, tail, head, chest, and along underneath the abdomen, before riding or turning your horse out in the paddock.

    “Once your horse returns to the stable, ensure that you check him thoroughly. Ticks are easier to feel than to see, so run your hands gently through their mane, tail, and across their body, feeling for small bumps along the way, being careful not to damage or dislodge a tick by accident.”

    What should I do if I find ticks attached to my horse?

    “Always be careful when removing ticks. Do not apply chemicals or vaseline to the tick, or attempt to freeze or burn it off. This may stimulate it to regurgitate it’s saliva and stomach contents, increasing the chances of it passing on any diseases that it is carrying.

    “The best option is to wear latex gloves and use a tick fork. A tick attaches itself by screwing barbed mouthparts into the skin. Therefore, it is very important that the tick is removed using an un-screwing technique. Fine point tweezers can also be used, but make sure you grasp the tick’s head, and not its body, as doing so may cause it to regurgitate.

    “Once a tick is removed, the affected area should be cleaned with an antiseptic solution or salt water. Detached ticks should be killed by placing them in a jar of alcohol. Alternatively, they can be sent in a crush-proof container to Public Health England to help identify diseases carried by ticks that can be passed on to animals or humans.”

    Continued below…

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    What is Lyme disease and what are the main signs?

    “Lyme Disease is a tick-borne infection which can affect many body systems. Most horses infected with Lyme Disease do not show obvious clinical signs, but there are some things that you can look out for:

    • Sore joints
    • Lethargy
    • Low-grade fever
    • Hypersensitivity and muscle tenderness
    • Neurological dysfunction
    • Inflammation of the eyes

    “If you notice any of these symptoms, contact your vet as soon as possible. Treatment for Lyme Disease is usually an intensive and prolonged course of antibiotics. However, effective prevention is the best way to ensure a tick-free summer and a happy, healthy horse.”

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