Itchy Horses – Lice & Mites
There are two main types of lice found in the UK: in simple terms one is a chewing louse and one a sucking louse. Damalinia is the chewing form and Haematopinus is the rarer sucking louse. The whole life cycle takes place on the horse and is completed in only 14 days! Both types are usually found in areas where there is thick hair such as the mane and tail. Native breeds with thick winter coats are predisposed. Signs of lice include intense itching, restlessness, rubbing and flaky skin.
Any horse can be affected but they are more commonly seen in the very young, immunosuppressed, or older horses. If you suspect lice or your horse is intensely itchy or expressing any of the signs above you should contact your vet to receive the appropriate treatment. Treatment often only kills adult lice so may need to be repeated after 14 days.
The most common mite seen in horses in the UK is the feather mite (Chorioptes). This mite can cause the horses to become distressed and intensely itchy. As the name suggests it tends to effect the heal region. Signs of mites include stamping, rubbing of the heels and biting of the legs.
As they like to live in the thick hair of the fetlock region they are most commonly seen in heavily feathered breeds like cobs, Friesians and draught horses. Unlike lice these mites are not visible to the naked eye. They can be detected if your vet takes skin scrapes and looks at them underneath the microscope but the clinical signs are usually adequate to initiate treatment. Treatment must kill the adults and the eggs so must be repeated after two weeks.
Currently there are no licensed treatments for mites in horses in the UK, however we do have an injection which is effective. We would recommend clipping back long feathers to help reduce burdens and there are also washes available. It is advised to clean the stable and environment thoroughly as they can live and remain in your horse’s environment. If you suspect mites please don’t hesitate to contact us and we can discuss a treatment plan with you.