Dealing with Ticks

Ticks are not only unsightly, they also can transmit infectious diseases such as ehrlichiosis, Lyme disease, and piroplasmosis to horses. Severe infestations can cause skin irritations and even anemia (a decrease in number of healthy red blood cells).

Ticks spend most of their lives on the ground in areas with some shade and humidity and congregate along trails, in overgrown areas, and in margins of wood openings. Direct sunlight and low humidity are their enemies. Keeping brush cut back and clipping pastures will make areas inhospitable for ticks. 

Repellents and insecticides containing  permethrin or cypermethrin will provide horses with several hours of tick protection. These insecticides are very irritating to ticks, so the insects tend to drop off before attaching to the horse. Products based on natural ingredients, such as botanical oils, might give some protection for short periods of time. 

Thoroughly check horses for ticks (especially on the lower legs and mane) when grooming. Relatively large American dog ticks are easy to find, but smaller ticks can be overlooked. A final insecticide/repellant application before turning out the horse will help to dislodge any missed ticks.


Ticks wander on animals for some time before they settle and begin to feed. Barbed mouthparts, along with cement secreted by the tick, allow it to attach firmly to the skin. Removing a tick requires a firm but steady pull. After donning latex or nitrile gloves, grasp the tick very closely to the skin and apply steady traction. While patience is required, this method is the one most likely to remove the entire tick from the skin.

Once attached, ticks cannot just decide to "let go," even if encouraged with a hot match tip, fingernail polish, or other home remedy. There is no substitute for pulling the tick off manually.

CONTACT: Lee Townsend, PhD, (859) 257-7455,, Department of Entomology, University of Kentucky, Lexington, Kentucky

This is an excerpt from Equine Disease Quarterly, funded by underwriters at Lloyd's, London, brokers, and their Kentucky agents.

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Equine Disease Quarterly

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