Ticks: What are the Risks for Your Horses?

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It’s spring! Synonymous with the great return to grass long-awaited by our horses! But now, the grass is tall, the undergrowth and the bushes are well supplied: ideal living conditions for ticks. The bites of these parasites are painless but can transmit diseases such as piroplasmosis or Lyme disease to horses.

Ticks are external parasites that can affect all vertebrates, even cold-blooded ones. There are 841 species around the world. Only three species are frequently encountered in France and are potentially dangerous for our horses.

In our regions, ticks live mainly in forest environments (forests and woods) and the bushes, scrub, and hedgerows of pastures. They are present all year round, and although their peaks of activity are in spring and fall, don’t wait for fine weather to be vigilant and take the necessary measures to avoid any infestation.

During their reproductive cycle, ticks feed on the blood of one or more hosts depending on the tick species. Their sting is painless and possible thanks to a powerful rostrum, capable of going through the skin of a rhinoceros! It is during the meal that the tick is likely to transmit any diseases it carries. The risk of transmission is a maximum of 48 hours after the tick attaches to the animal. So, remove them by using the tick remover for cats.

Diseases transmitted to horses by ticks

Although most ticks are harmless to your horse, some can carry disease.


Piroplasmosis (or babesiosis) is caused by a small tick-borne parasite that colonizes red blood cells and causes them to burst. The regions of southern France, the east, the Pays de la Loire, and Normandy are the most exposed to this disease.

There are two species of Babesia in horses responsible for piroplasmosis:

babesia caballi

Babesia equi: the most dangerous and very difficult to eliminate from the body. It can be responsible for chronic carriage and new crises, especially during stress. It poses a problem when export is envisaged in certain countries such as the United States.

Great fatigue, fever, dark urine, and yellow mucous membranes are all symptoms that can accompany piroplasmosis. If you notice any of these signs in your horse, do not delay in contacting your veterinarian as this disease is potentially fatal. The latter will administer a specific treatment, generally accompanied by an anti-inflammatory. To confirm the disease, it is possible to take a blood test and request a serological test from a specialized laboratory.

Lyme disease

Lyme disease (or borreliosis) is caused by bacteria transmitted by ticks. This disease is very difficult to diagnose, as the symptoms are numerous and can vary from horse to horse. We are talking about a protean disease.

Loss of shape, change in behavior (irritability), fever, joint swelling (arthritis) with lameness, paralysis of the tail, difficulty swallowing, corneal ulcers, uveitis, cataracts… are all manifestations that can be associated with the disease of Lyme!

As for piroplasmosis, it is possible to search for this disease by taking a blood test, although the interpretation of the results is often tricky. The treatment is heavy and consists of the administration of specific antibiotics for about a month, possibly accompanied by anti-inflammatories.

Prevent and fight against ticks

To date, there are no effective vaccines against these tick-borne diseases in horses.

Nevertheless, limiting the risk of bites and the possible transmission of diseases is possible:

Use effective repellents and acaricides such as Hippo Tiques from ESC Laboratoire or Flymax N’Tick from Audevard, to be sprayed or applied to your horse’s coat before a walk in the forest or regularly if he lives in the meadow. Their duration of action varies from one product to another: chemical products generally have a longer duration of action than natural products.

Daily monitoring: scrupulously inspect your pet’s coat, especially under the belly and between the limbs, when grooming or when returning from a walk. If you discover the embedded fully ticks on dogs, eliminating it is quite simple…  provided you are well equipped not to leave the rostrum (the head) in the skin!

Finally, do not hesitate to clear and limit the hedges as far as possible.

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