Ticks are not only a nuisance, but can transmit diseases to horses including anaplasmosis, babesiosis, Colorado tick fever, Lyme disease, piroplasmosis, Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever, and tularemia.
Left untreated these diseases can progress, causing serious illness, especially when horses are heavily infested. Ticks that do not cause serious illness may still cause irritation, lesions and infection.
In the United States there are several ticks that horse owners should be on the lookout for including the American dog tick, Black-Legged tick, Cayenne tick, Lone Star tick, Pacific Coast tick, Rocky Mountain Wood tick, Spinose Ear tick, Western Black-Legged tick, and the Winter tick. These ticks live in different geographic regions.
Talk to your vet or County Extension Agent to find out what type of ticks are commonly found in your area. If ticks are a regular problem in your area, it is good practice to regularly inspect your horse for ticks with visual examination and feel.
Ticks are often found in the dense creases of the skin, so it is important to feel (palpate) these areas for any abnormal bumps. Examine the head, under their jaw, nose and nostrils first, carefully feeling along any creases where the hair may hide ticks.
Then inspect the outside and inside of their ears using gentle palpation to feel for abnormal bumps. Move to under their forelock and mane. Then inspect each leg beginning with their "armpit" and moving down to the coronet band. Examine the belly region including the udder or scrotum area. Finally examine the tail, dock and anal area.
If you discover ticks on your horse, you should not simply squeeze and pull them off. Using forceps or tweezers, grasp the tick by their head, where it enters the skin. Pull gently and firmly, in attempt to remove the entire tick, including their head. Gently blot the infestation site with a mild antiseptic. Watch the site for swelling, heat or inflammation that may result if infection sets in.
Tips for safety & Success
There are many tall tales about how to best remove ticks, most of which are untrue and unwise. Do not crush, twist or apply oils or ointments to a tick. Do not hold a lit or hot matchstick or cigarette to their heads (a technique that may frighten your horse), which may make some ticks dig in further or release more infected saliva.
Proper disposal of ticks ensures that they do not return. Some recommend disposing of them in a small jar of alcohol, although placing them in a sealed trash bag is also fine.
If you suspect that your horse has Lyme disease, talk to your vet about saving these ticks for testing.
Helpful Outside ResourcesCredible Equine Health Information on the Internet