Can Horses Get Fleas, Ticks, Lice, And Other Creepy Crawlies?

January 19, 2023

Imagine a world where we didn’t have to worry about insects, parasites, mosquitos, and other creepy crawlies out to suck our blood and spread disease to our pets and horses. Unfortunately, the world is full of these pathogens spreaders, and they affect most animals. Can a horse get fleas, ticks, lice, and other creepy crawlies?

Like many other animals, horses are susceptible to fleas, ticks, lice, and other creepy crawlies that spread dangerous pathogens when coming into contact with the equine. Vaccination, insect-repellent products, and other proactive measures help to protect horses against attacks by these creatures.

Some diseases spread by these creatures are barely noticeable, while others have the potential to kill your horse. While many serious diseases that can affect your horse when coming into contact with creepy crawlies can be treated, some will stay in your horse’s system indefinitely. You can further improve your horse’s health by forming a close working relationship with your local vet.

young arabian horseCan Horses Get Fleas, Ticks, Lice, And Other Creepy Crawlies?

Horses are not immune to the attacks of small disease-carrying insects. Horses are susceptible to fleas, ticks, lice, and a host of creepy crawlies, and ensuring that you implement preventative measures is essential in keeping your horse as safe as possible.

Vaccination plays a crucial role in safeguarding your horse from certain life-threatening diseases, and so is applying on-horse protective products that keep the creepy crawlies at bay, or at least aim to.

Fleas and lice mainly irritate the horse’s skin, causing discomfort, whereas a tick can cause serious damage to a horse, even death. Unvaccinated horses will struggle when mosquitos bring Equine Encephalomyelitis and West Nile Virus to the party.

Horses Can Get Fleas

If you have dogs or cats, the chances are that you’ve had to treat them against a flea infestation. Fleas are particularly fond of hot and humid areas, and animals outdoors are susceptible to these small ‘I can jump more than 10 inches’ critters.

The chances of your horse getting fleas are less likely than your dog or cat, as a horse makes less of an attractive host due to not laying down in flea-favorite burrows, nests, porches, and dens that are dark and humid.

Finding fleas on your horse is a possibility as they often hitch a ride to their more preferred hosts to feed on, such as cats, dogs, chickens, rodents, and foxes. In North America, the cat flea called Ctenocephalides felis is the king of fleas and the most abundant.

A sign that your horse may have a few unwanted fleas on its skin is when you notice the following in your equine:

  • Losing hair
  • Scratches a specific area
  • Bites and gnaws at a specific area
  • An irritated constant focus on a raw area due to rubbing, biting, and scratching itself.

Horse standing on the ground

What To Do When Your Horse Has Fleas

In the rare instance you find fleas on your beloved horse, don’t panic. There are ways to get rid of these blood-sucking fleas. The first step is to phone the horse vet and get a recommendation for the best product to use on your horse that’s safe and without pesticides. Preferably a product that includes insect growth regulators (IGR), which is safe for pets and humans applying the product.

After treating your horse with the vet-recommended product, it can be helpful to keep fleas off your horse by using the following DIY mixture until you notice that all fleas have packed up and jumped to another host or died a silent death.

The mixture and directions of use are as follows:

  • Mix 1 gallon of water with ½ a cup of dishwashing soap.
  • Use a horse flea comb (large) to brush the whole horse (including the mane area) and rinse the
  • comb in the soap mixture. When dipped in the soap water, fleas collected by the flea comb will be trapped by the soapy mixture.
  • Mix a spray bottle with half vinegar and half water and shake it well.
  • Spray the vinegar mist over the horse, including the mane and tail. Fleas are repelled by the bitter-smelling vinegar and will typically abandon ship when coming into contact with the vile-tasting vinegar. Use white vinegar only.
  • Additionally, you can ask the vet for a product that acts as flea prevention, either in pill form or as a food additive.

Horses Can Get Ticks

happy horseTicks attack animals and humans all year but are especially active in warm and humid conditions across America during spring and summer. These opportunistic, blood-sucking, disease-spreading species are to be feared as they can make their hosts extremely sick, even killing some in their quest for blood.

Ticks, like many spiders, have eight legs and a piercing mouth system that latches onto their host. They insert themselves into the bloodstream of their unlucky victims to survive and reproduce.

Horses, like humans, dogs, and cats, are susceptible to these pathogens carrying insects that rudely insert themselves into our lives. When they get stuck into a horse, they can transfer the following diseases to your beloved steed:

Ticks Can Give Your Horse Anaplasmosis

When a tick inserts itself into a horse, it transfers pathogens into the host, which can have devastating health effects. When black-legged ticks (Ixodes scapularis) bites a host, it can result in Anaplasmosis, a disease that results in muscle aches, fever, chills, and headaches.

Ticks Can Give Your Horse Piroplasmosis

Blood parasites (Babesia caballi or Theileriaequi) transferred from a tick to your horse results in an infection called Equine piroplasmosis.

When a horse is infected, it may show no sign of infection. However, it may lose its appetite, lose weight, and show signs of depression and weakness, producing darker than normal urine in mild cases.

Pregnant mares may lose their fowl due to suffering from piroplasmosis. Other severe symptoms include anemia, swelling of the horse’s limbs, enlarged spleen, breathing difficulties, and other issues affecting the horse’s nervous system. The worst-case scenario is death.

When a horse is infected with piroplasmosis, the organisms never leave their system entirely, but they can overcome the associated symptoms through proper treatment.

Ticks Can Give Your Horse Lyme Disease

The CDC acknowledges that Lyme disease (bacterium called Borrelia burgdorferi) is the most prevalent vector-borne disease in America, and ticks help spread the pathogens to horses and humans alike. The black-legged tick (known as the deer tick) is responsible for spreading Lyme.

Lyme disease is difficult to detect with a standard PCR test, as the bacteria is known to reproduce slowly at low numbers once inside a host, making early detection difficult.

A special DNA test formulated by a Rutgers New Jersey Medical School professor, Steven Schutzer, has helped to isolate and identify the DNA of the bacteria causing the disease, leading to earlier detection and faster treatment in equines.

Symptoms that could indicate Lyme disease in your horse include weight loss, lameness of the legs, fever, arthritis, breathing difficulties, and a depressed state. Swollen joints, lethargy, and inflammation of the eyes (uveitis) are all possible pointers to Lyme disease.

 Flies on horse eye

How To Deal With A Horse That Has Ticks

Ticks are super-disease-spreaders. When you find a tick on your horse, or yourself, you need to remove it immediately. Use a tweezer to get a good handle on the tick, and pull in an upward motion until all of the tick is removed, making sure to remove the head.

Don’t jerk, wrench, or squeeze the tick, as this action will leave you with half a tick in the tweezers with the head still inside the skin.

When the tick is removed, put it in a jar with alcohol, as a tick-borne disease can take days, even months, before your horse will start to show symptoms. Should your horse become sick, you can show the vet what type of tick was responsible.

It would be best to get your horse tested for any tick-related diseases when you physically remove a tick from its body or notice some of the symptoms listed above. After testing and diagnosis, a vet will prescribe an antibiotic and an anti-parasitic drug.

To date, no vaccine protects our beloved horses from the nasty pathogens that ticks spread to the animals we love.

Applying a topical-based insecticide to your horse when riding through tall grass and bushy brush is some of the precautions you can take to protect your steed against these stealthy ticks.

Horses Can Get Lice

Lice can infest your horse. Two species of lice make themselves at home on mules and horses. The first is Haematopinusasini (the horse-sucking louse) and Damaliniaequi (the horse-biting louse.)

Sucking lice (Anoplura) feed on blood, and you will typically spot them close to the base of your horse’s tail and the root area of both the mane and forelock. As the name suggests, biting lice (Mallophaga) are lice that can bite and chew as they are fitted with biting organs.

You will find these lice feeding on scales, hair, dried blood, and skin waste while making themselves at home on your horse’s finer hair areas, such as the side of the neck, tail base, and on softer flanks.

Louse eggs are called nits and are easily recognizable on the roots of the hair. Be on the lookout for light-colored oval-shaped, semi-transparent eggs close to the skin surface. Symptoms that may indicate that your horse has lice have to do with the skin and coat of the animal and can be any one of the following:

  • Spotting lice on the horse’s skin
  • Itching
  • Damaged skin
  • Loss of hair
  • Rubbing against objects
  • Bitting
  • Matting of hair

Lice can become a problem when a herd is stabled close together in large numbers and can be indicative of poor nutrition and care. On the flip side, a healthy, well-looked-after horse can also be affected. There’s no magic formula to lice infestation.

White horse rolling on the ground to relieve itching from lice

How To Deal With A Horse That Has Lice

The first step in treating lice is to confirm that your horse has them. Parting the horse’s hair will quickly reveal an unwelcome infestation. Do a proper investigation from topline to tail switch, making sure to part matted hair.

If your horse’s coat is thick and long, you will need to trim it, as these conditions are very inviting to lice. A simple shampoo wash will not eliminate these stubborn critters because the nits of lice are glued to the hair.

Contact your vet for the best-medicated shampoo, insecticidal meds, wipe-on formula (lice-killing powder), and ivermectin oral treatment if necessary. The treatment of lice may have to be repeated until infestation numbers are eradicated to zero.

Other Creepy Crawlies That Your Horse Can Get

Not only has your stallion got to deal with fleas, ticks, and lice, but other creepy crawlies also want to have a go at him. Caring for a horse is a 24/7 experience, especially protecting them from mother nature and her creatures.

Horses Can Get Mange Caused By Microscopic Mites

Mange is a skin disease caused by skin-invading minuscule mites. The reaction to these mites in equines is skin that’s heavily irritated, leading to itching and scratching, inflammation, and hair loss.

Skin mange and attacks by straw itch mites and harvest mites will result in your horse showing lumps, hives, legions of the skin, hair loss, blisters, and crusty sores.

Like many of the parasites that attack our loveable four-legged friends, mange comes in several forms, which include:

  • Chorioptic mange, also known as leg mange
  • Psoroptic mange, also known as mane mange
  • Sarcoptic mange, also known as equine scabies
  • Demodectic mange, also known as red mange

Shires, Friesians, Clydesdales, Percherons, Gypsies, and ponies with fluffy feet are generally more affected by mange than other horse breeds.

Chorioptic mange is America’s most common form of mange, as the other mange forms are either very low in occurrence or irradicated in entirety from the equine species.

What To Do When Your Horse Has Mange

Mange is quite rare in equines, so if you suspect your horse has mange, it’s best to get the vet to do a physical inspection. The vet will probably do a skin scraping to examine for mite presence.

Depending on the type of mange, treatment can involve oral macrocyclic lactones, lime and sulfur mixture used to dip and spray, topical treatments, corticosteroids, and itch medication.

Mosquitos Spread Diseases To Horses

A very dangerous creepy-flying-crawly is the mosquito. This bearer of bad news has the power to kill your horse with a simple prick. Without proper vaccination against certain viruses, a horse’s chance of survival drops alarmingly when the pesky mosquito transmits certain diseases.

Mosquitos Can Give Your Horse Equine Encephalomyelitis

When a mosquito passes equine encephalomyelitis disease to a horse, it’s not a fun experience for the owner or animal, especially if the horse is not vaccinated against the virus.

Commonly referred to as ‘sleeping sickness’ as equines walk into objects as if they’re sleepwalking, and some horses struggle to stand up from the ground.

Three strains of the virus exist, Eastern Equine Encephalomyelitis (EEE), Western Equine Encephalomyelitis (WEE), and Venezuelan Equine Encephalomyelitis (VEE), and all of them affect the central nervous system of the horse.

The EEE strain is particularly aggressive and deadly. To give you an idea of the deadliness of this particular strain, it kills 30% of people infected with the virus and 90% of horses. The virus is passed from infected birds via mosquitoes to equines and people.

Even though the virus is considered rare, it’s acknowledged as one of the most dangerous mosquito-transferred diseases in America. Symptoms develop rapidly, including lethargy, fever, paralysis, tremors, decreased awareness of the surrounding environment, and seizures.

This virus is scary because even if your horse survives the onslaught, it may be left with some form of brain damage. It’s important to keep all your horses up to date with all possible vaccination and booster shots throughout the year.

Mosquitos Can Give Your Horse West Nile Virus

The West Nile virus (WNV) is a deadly disease spread by a mosquito bite that can result in death for 3 out of 10 horses. The virus gives horses fever, muscle cramps, paralysis, fever, and poor coordination. The inability to rise is another result of the debilitating bite of an infected mosquito.

Neurological deficits, diarrhea, sheath and tendon infections, and pneumonia can also occur due to being infected and weakened by the virus. Depending on the age and overall health of the horse, recovery can be as quick as 5-7 days or a couple of intense weeks.

Mosquito Precautions For Your Horse

Vaccination against Equine Encephalomyelitis and West Nile virus should be any horse owner’s first line of defense against possible infections from the buzzing mosquito.

Horses in the Gulf Coast, Southwest, and Southeast areas of America should be vaccinated up to 3 times a year, as mosquitos are almost ever-present here.

Secondly, you should apply an on-horse insect repellent during mosquito months which typically runs from May through October each year. Stable and yard management can proactively reduce spots for the female mosquito to breed, such as getting rid of any standing water.

You should replace the water in drinking throughs every couple of days as it minimizes the larvae of mosquitos in reaching adulthood. Fly protection gear (mask and sheets) can help limit body exposure to these bloodsuckers.

Dawn and dusk are the favorite time of day for mosquitos, and full-moon nights are particularly busy. Placing fans in the stalls can make it difficult for mosquitos to land on your horse. Complete protection from mosquitos is impossible, but you can take proactive steps to at least try to protect your beloved horse from attacks.

Horses Can Get Invaded By A Botfly

The female botfly is a creepy crawly that won’t be out of place in an equine horror movie. The villainous botfly lays hundreds of small eggs on a horse’s body (around the nose area, legs, neck, and mouth). When the horse licks or bites them, these eggs are kick-started into life.

The botfly eggs now morph into maggots. Maggot larvae only have one purpose: to get inside the horse’s body. Crawling into the mouth of the horse, being transferred via the horse’s tongue, it doesn’t matter. Once inside, these larvae make the horse’s gums and tongue its home.

One month later, the larvae will move toward the stomach area of the equine and attach themselves to the upper region. Once inside, they attach to the stomach lining with hooked mouthpieces and live inside the horse for months before being pooped out.

During the process, your horse can experience issues with its gums, stomach problems, and a compromised immune system. Botfly infestation often leads to Gasterophilus infection. Weight loss is often the case and a possible indicator of this creepy crawlies in your horse’s stomach.

What To Do When Your Horse Gets Botflies

Start by flushing out your horse’s system with a worming product containing moxidectin and ivermectin. Physically removing the botflies with a botfly egg knife and applying insect repellent is one way of combatting these creepy crawlies.

A feeding plan that caters to a healthy digestive system should be in place, and cleaning up breeding grounds for these botflies, such as removing manure from stables and paddocks, is essential. Get your vet to do a fecal blood test to ascertain the damage caused by the botflies before deciding on a recovery plan together.


Like most animals on planet earth, horses can get fleas, ticks, lice, and other creepy crawlies that can seriously affect their overall health. Preventative measures can help reduce the chance of your horse getting attacked by these creatures. Vaccination is crucial in preventing death and serious disease.

While you can never protect your horse 100% from creepy crawlies, you can try to limit exposure and be proactive instead of reactive when dealing with them.



I'm Bo, the owner of Smarter Horse. Helping horses be smarter by educating their people.  To find out more about me, click here

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