Reducing Risk from Tick-Borne Diseases

Reducing Risk from Tick-Borne Diseases

The USDA Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service has identified Lyme disease and anaplasmosis as the most common tick-borne diseases for U.S. horses.

Photo: Courtesy Dr. Marianne Sloet

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) indicates that the numbers of human cases of Lyme disease and other tick-borne diseases (TBD) reported each year in the United States have been increasing steadily, currently totaling tens of thousands annually. The USDA Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service has identified Lyme disease and anaplasmosis as the most common tick-borne diseases for U.S. horses. In some regions, 50% of horses can show antibodies to the Lyme disease pathogen, but only about 10% show clinical symptoms. Over 70% of the ticks reported to feed on horses also feed on humans, transmitting the same pathogens causing TBD.

Ticks can also be an irritant to people and animals. In severe infestations, ticks can cause anemia in small and young animals, and in some instances, a single tick bite can cause paralysis.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and USDA have developed a smart, sensible, and sustainable approach to reduce the transmission of tick-borne diseases through tick management practices. The recommendations below help people protect themselves and their horses from TBD:

Tick Management Practices

General: The following considerations apply to both people and horses:

  • Ticks can be found in backyards, pastures, parks, along trails, and other riding areas.
  • Ticks can be carried on mammals, wildlife, and birds.
  • Ticks can also be carried into homes bu dogs and cats, as well as on clothing.
  • Promt tick removal with tweezers is essential to reduce the transmission of pathogens casing TBD.
  • The nymph stage of the tick equals the size of the head of a pin.
  • Apply EPA-registered pesticide products (repellents/tick control) to people, pets, and horses according to the label directions.

Protect Yourself: Take the following stes when participating in outdoor activities:

  • Wear long pants, a long-sleeved shirt, a hat, clogs, and boots (covering lacings with duct tape) while outside.
  • Wear permethrin-treated clothing.
  • Conduct daily body tick checks (personal inspection using a mirror).
  • Shower immediately after being outside using a coarse washcloth to scrub the skin in order to dislodge any small ticks missed by the inspection.

Protect Your Horse: Steps to take before and after you ride your horse include:

  • Before riding, inspect your horse and remove attached ticks while grooming, especially the lower legs, on and under the tail, along the mane, and dive special attendion to warm/dark thin-skinned areas sich as between the hind legs (udder or sheath areas, too), behind the elbows, and around the throatlatch and ears.
  • After riding, check your horse for ticks.
  • Re-apply pesticicde (if recoomended by label directions) especially to horses returned to pastures with risk factors (shade, tall grass, brush, weeds).

Land Management: Manage your property to reduce tick populations by:

  • Removing leaf litter, bursh, and weeds at the edge of the lawn or pasture.
  • Creating a nine-foot buffer zone on horse trails and pasture boundaries frequented by deer or other wildlife by clearing litter, brush, weeds, and branches.
  • Discouraging formation of wildlife habitats on farms by feeding grain in containers and keeping grains in tightly sealed containers. 
  • Maintaining the pasture at a length that allows for adequante pasture grass and yet reduces tick-seeking sites.
  • Preventing horses from grazing in wooded areas by installing fencing.
  • Consulting your local Cooperative Extension agent for recommendations.

In addition to providing information for protection, an effective tick integrated pest management plan includes a tick surveillance program. Currently, the CDC collects reported TBD data in humans. Discussions are underway in the federal and private sectors on appropriate methods to collect tick surveillance data including tick identification and species distribution in the United States. This type of collected information could be very useful in identifying areas posing the highest risk to horses and their riders from TBD in the future.

  • Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Division of Vector-Borne Diseases. Tick-borne disease data in humans. Page last updated: June 17, 2014. 
  • Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Tick resources. Page last updated: May 5, 2014. 
  • Stafford III, Kirby C. 2004. Tick Management Handbook. Connecticut Agricultural Experiment Station. New Haven, Connecticut.
  • US Department of Agriculture, Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, Veterinary Services. Horse Disease Information. Last modified: May 30, 2014. 
  • US Environmental Protection Agency, Office of Pesticide Programs. PestWise. Last updated on May 27, 2014. 

CONTACTS: Candace Brassard (703/305-6598 or and Denise Greenway (703/308-8263 or—U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Washington, D.C.

Angela James, PhD—970/494-7278——U.S. Department of Agriculture, Fort Collins, Colorado 

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

About the Author

Equine Disease Quarterly

Equine Disease Quarterly is a quarterly equine disease research newsletter published by the University of Kentucky's Gluck Equine Research Center, and funded by underwriters at Lloyd's of London, brokers, and their agents.

Stay on top of the most recent Horse Health news with FREE weekly newsletters from Learn More

Free Newsletters

Sign up for the latest in:

From our partners