Equine lice are not extremely common, but infestations do sometimes occur. The good news is that they are easy to control. Both of the common types of lice, the biting kind and the sucking kind can affect horses.
Biting lice tend only to chew on the dead skin and hair follicles, while the sucking lice actually burrow their mouths into the flesh and suck on the horse’s blood. When infestations of horse lice do occur, it tends to be in the winter months. They are most often found in the head, mane, and the base of the tail. These areas are where they will lay their eggs, also called nits.
An infestation of horse lice can cause many adverse affects in your animal, including anemia (due to the loss of the blood from the sucking lice), uneasiness, irritability, and loss of hair. If any of these things occur, you should check your animal for horse lice as well as any other factors that may be causing them to suffer.
The main reason that hair loss occurs is that the horse will try to rub against things to cease the incessant itching caused by the equine lice chewing on then and digging into their skin. In some cases, it becomes more than just hair loss – the horse will actually rib itself raw, until it is bleeding in an attempt to stop that itching. In these cases, you now have an open wound to deal with as well as lice. Open wounds are magnets for other sources of infection. These must be taken care of immediately.
Transfer of horse lice from one animal to another can take place in a variety of ways, the most common of which is contact with an infected horse. Equine lice can only live away from their host for a short period time (for several days at most); however, the lice will transfer to another horse if it is easily accessible. Other ways that the horse lice can be transferred include using infected bedding material, using grooming tools on a horse that is infected and then on a horse that is clean, and through certain types of flies that unwittingly carry the lice from horse to horse.
If you find lice on your horse, you should get all of the horses in your care treated right away. This means that you must also take care to clean the bedding, or get new bedding, so that none of the lice that may be hiding in the equipment or bedding is given the chance to take a host when they horses return. In addition, you will want to have follow-up treatments for all of the horses, as they do not destroy the eggs. Wait about two weeks between treatments.
From then on, you will likely want to check for equine lice periodically, especially in the wintertime. As always, consult with a veterinarian who has plenty of experience with horses before you give a treatment, just to be sure that it is safe for your animal and that you are doing the procedure correctly.