Tuesdays with Tony
I don’t know about you all, but for some reason, the bugs this year are driving me absolutely catty. I’ve talked to you about flies ad nauseam, but today we are going to talk about a different little pest that has been popping up all over and causing much grief for horse owners and my docs alike. No, not mosquitos, that’s for another time. Today we are going to talk about the nasty little boogers, the tick.
The tick population is booming! Luckily my minions keep me in flea and tick prevention so I don’t have to worry about them, but I have had a number of you call me to ask what to do about all these ticks. We do not really know why ticks are so much more prevalent this year than years past. My theory is, us cats have honed our hunting skills and have decreased the bird and bat population which has allowed ticks to proliferate since the birds and bats aren’t around to eat them. In reality, my docs explained, it is more likely due to global warming, habitat loss, and the increase in wildlife presence closer to our homes. I’ll stick with my theory that cats are superior hunting machines.
The Problem with Ticks
Ticks are attracted to the ammonia smell of your horse’s breath and sweat. They are also attracted to the heat and moisture from your horse. Ticks hang out on blades of grass and shrubs and wait for an unsuspecting host to come by. They wait with legs outstretched and when your horse walks by they jump on board for the ride. Ticks typically look for thinner-skinned areas such as the underbelly, mane, tail, inside flank and under the tail. They attach, have a blood meal, fall off and molt to the next stage of their life, leaving your horse with a firm, raised, itchy bump that can predispose your horse to a number of problems.
Most people associate ticks with Lyme Disease, obviously a very valid concern as Lyme Disease can cause weight loss, intermittent/shifting leg lameness, fever, poor performance, and other orthopedic problems for your horse. Luckily, the species of tick that carries Lyme Disease, the deer tick, is very uncommon in Florida. This does not mean that it is not possible for your horse to become infected with Lyme Disease but the chance is significantly decreased just because you were a smart horse owner who chose to live in Florida.
That being said, other species of ticks can cause other problems for your horse and spread other diseases that we must be aware of. Having had my fair share of ticks in the past, take my word for it, they are irritating. When I was a young kitten, I remember a time I didn’t have such lovely minions to care for me, and I had a pretty severe tick infestation. I was so itchy, I could not stop scratching. I made my skin raw and angry and opened myself up for infection. Luckily, I got it under control and haven’t had to deal with a tick infestation again.
I am not usually a sympathetic kind of guy, but if your horse has had ticks on him recently, I feel for him. You may have noticed your horse itching on trees and fences. His mane and tail may have bald spots, there may be areas of generalized swelling, and you may notice ulcerated, bleeding sores. Of course, a myriad of things can cause your horse to itch, ticks are just one annoyance that can play a role in your horse’s misery.
Beyond the cosmetic impact, they can also spread diseases including piroplasmosis, ehrlichiosis, and equine infectious anemia (EIA). Fortunately, we test for EIA when my docs pull blood for Coggins and it is well-controlled in the United States. There are laboratory tests for piroplasmosis and ehrlichiosis, however, unless your horse is showing the specific signs associated with these diseases, routine testing is not recommended. If you are concerned that your horse may be infected, ask my docs, they will know exactly what signs to look for. I’m just a cat that knows big words, my docs went to school for a long time to know exactly what those big words mean.
Unlike cats and dogs, there is not a specific topical medication like Frontline or K9 Advantix that is made for horses to prevent ticks. However, tick prevention is important and there are ways to decrease a tick infestation on your horse. First, knowing how to locate and remove ticks plays a vital role in reduction of ticks on your horse. Ticks should never be crushed, cut, or burned off your horse. Instead, the head must be pinched close to your horse’s skin and the tick pulled off. After the tick is removed, submerge it in rubbing alcohol to kill it. I recommend always thoroughly checking your horse for ticks before and after a ride and removing any you find.
Many bug repellents have formulas in them that will repel ticks. Products such as coumaphos spray or powder, permethrin sprays, wipes, or spot on treatments, as well as zeta-cypermethrin are all proven tick repellents. If you are unsure of which would be best for your horse, give my docs a call and they will be happy to help answer any questions you might have. I stick with my handy dandy Seresto collar so I don’t have to remember to apply topical prevention once a month. Someone should come up with a Seresto collar for horses… perhaps between my naps I will work on that. Keep an eye on the news for the first millionaire cat who came up with a Seresto collar for horses, it will be me and then you can say you know a celebrity.
Finally, pasture management is key to tick prevention. Remove any underbrush, weeds, etc from your pasture. Watch my seminar on pasture management, and you’ll understand why you want to do this even if you don’t have a tick problem. Also, keep wildlife away. Yes, we all love watching the deer frolic. However, do not encourage wildlife to come into your pastures, let them stay next door and watch from afar. If you don’t have barn cats that like to hunt, consider getting a few chickens or Guinea fowl. They love ticks and are excellent at eating any that may come around your barn. But remember, we are Springhill EQUINE, so be sure to have a bird vet on speed dial in case your chicken or Guinea were to fall ill or get injured at any time. Trust me, you don’t want these horse docs working on your bird.
Ticks are a nuisance and can cause some major problems for your horse. Luckily, prevention is easy and treatment for minor irritations caused by ticks is simple. Just remember if you have any questions or concerns about ticks and your horse, my docs are just a phone call away.
Until next week,
Tuesdays with Tony is the official blog of Tony the Clinic Cat at Springhill Equine Veterinary Clinic in Newberry, Florida. If you liked this blog, please subscribe below, and share it with your friends on social media! For more information, please call us at (352) 472-1620, visit our website at SpringhillEquine.com, or follow us on Facebook!