Horse lice? You bet it’s real! Horses can have lice just like people can. Those itchy, pesky bugs seem to be able to pop up everywhere! But, what are the differences between horses having lice and people having lice?
Or, more importantly, can people catch lice from horses? That is what I will be discussing in this article; can people catch lice from horses, and is horse lice the same as human lice? These things are important to know, both for horse health, and human health!
Can Humans Get Horse Lice?
Simply put: no, humans cannot contract lice from horses. Thankfully, horses carry completely different strands of lice than humans. Lice that live on horses cannot survive on a human body, so thankfully, you cannot get lice from your horse.
There are two different kinds of lice that use horses as their hosts. These are Haematopinus Asini (H Asini) and the Damalinia Equi (D Equi). The H Asini is the “horse sucking type” and the D Equi is the “horse biting type.”
Horse Lice: Haematopinus Asini
H Asini feeds on blood via the roots of the horse’s fur and hair. They are most typically found in the base of a horse’s tail, the base of a horses’ mane, or the feathers around a horse’s fetlocks. These areas are where the horse’s fur is more coarse and easier for them to hold onto.
H Asini doesn’t move around very much and can be found by spreading a horse’s hair so that the skin is visible, similarly to looking for lice on a human head. They are light brown or brownish-gray in color and are typically 1-2mm long.
Horse Lice: Damalinia Equi
D Equi doesn’t live by sucking a horse’s blood, they live by eating a horse’s dander. Because of this, they do move around and prefer to live where the horse’s fur is thinner and softer. These areas are more likely to produce dry skin, and therefore more dander.
D Equi is most frequently found near a horse’s head or neck and flanks or croup. They are smaller than H Asini, running less than 2mm in length. They are more of an off-white or yellow than the tan and light brown of the H Asini.
H Asini and D Equi have nearly the same lifecycles. The mature lice (louse, s.) lay their eggs near the base of a horse’s fur. From there, the baby lice (called nits) hatch about five to twenty days later.
Nits become nymphs (immature lice), and begin behaving like mature lice: either sucking blood from their host or eating their host’s dander. After about a week, nymphs are considered fully matured lice.
Lice only live about thirty or forty days. In their lifetime, they mature, feed, and lay eggs for more lice to be born.
Why Horses Get Lice
It is a commonly held belief that horses contract lice through poor or unclean living conditions. But, this is not necessarily true. While unclean living conditions (poorly maintained stalls, dirty or dusty barn, muddy pasture space, etc.) definitely doesn’t help the spread of lice, it isn’t the reason horses get lice.
Instead, horses get lice from direct or indirect contact with other horses. Directly, this would look like two horses making some kind of physical contact, most likely in the pasture. If one of these horses carried even small amounts of lice, the other horse would most likely also have lice after the physical contact.
Indirectly, horses could contract lice from sharing anything that has been touched by an infected horse. These items could be tack, brushes, buckets, halters, and any other item shared between more than one horse.
Symptoms of Lice in Horses
As with any other sickness or conditions, there are ways to know if your horse has lice. You may want to check your horse for lice if they are continuously itching the same spot(s), rubbing specific parts of their bodies on hard surfaces, or showing personality changes (acting lethargic, not getting excited for the food, etc.).
Horses with lice will frequently have patches of skin that have been rubbed raw, clear of hair due to itching. But, horses can also show all of these symptoms and not have lice. For example, during the summer my horse frequently rubs a few spots on his face raw, no matter how clean I keep him, due to itchiness. Be sure you are checking your horse for lice before treating him.
Extreme cases of lice can cause anemia in horses due to too much blood loss, but this is rare. Horses are more likely to contract lice during the winter when they have long fur, but it is still possible for them to have lice in the warmer months.
How to Treat Horses with Lice
There are a few different ways to treat horses that have lice. Generic, over-the-counter methods include powder, spray, and wipe-on products. With all three of these, the product must come into contact with the horse’s skin in order to be effective.
While products like these are not harmful, be sure to use gloves while administering these products, and to clean up well after use. Products like these can be found at a local farm or tack store.
If you call your vet to check out a case of lice, they may prescribe a specific kind of powder or spray. These may be different than the generic products and can only be obtained via an RX. It will all depend on the severity of the situation and the health of the horse.
Horses can catch lice no matter how many steps we take to prevent it. But, there are a few things we can do to lower the likelihood of it happening.
First, make sure your horse is on a regular deworming schedule. Ivermectin is the round of deworming that will most likely deal with lice; so long as your horse is on a correct deworming rotation, he should be getting Ivermectin enough to prevent lice.
Second, brush your horse regularly and thoroughly. Use a curry comb, and then a stiff brush before and after work. Know your horse’s coat and take note if there are any visible changes.
Third, wash your gear. Your tack is your responsibility; especially in the warmer months when horses sweat more, tack should be cleaned at least once a month, if not more. Cloth gear (saddle pads, blankets, etc.) should be cleaned more frequently than that.
The good news is, you can’t get lice from your horse! But, it is easy for your horse to get lice, so understanding what steps to take to prevent and treat it is very important. I hope this article helped you understand horse lice and its implications. If so, please share this article, and share with us your experiences dealing with horse lice!