This lush spring grass makes me happy. It’s a delightful treat after eating hay all winter. I’ve discovered all this grass can hold some surprises, though. In addition to my next meal, this tall grass may be home to ticks. These small arachnids cling to grass and other bushy plants waiting for someone or something to walk by, so they can hitch a ride and their next meal. These creatures can pose health concerns for horses and humans, alike.
The primary concern with tick bites is the potential for disease transmission. The major diseases associated with tick bites are equine piroplasmosis (EP), Lyme disease, and equine granulocytic anaplasmosis. EP is caused by protozoa and its symptoms can include weakness, lethargy, weight loss, fever, jaundice, colic, and edema. The USDA mandates testing of all horses entering the US for EP and it is currently considered to have been eradicated in this country. Lyme disease and anaplasmosis are both caused by bacteria and can be treated with antibiotics. Lyme disease occurs most commonly in the northeastern states. Diagnosis is difficult as many horses are exposed to the bacteria, but never develop clinical signs and symptoms are often vague and varied. Some of these symptoms may include stiffness, shifting lameness, weight loss, swollen joints, and behavioral changes. Anaplasmosis has similar symptoms, but is often accompanied by a fever. Prompt treatment is critical, so contacting your veterinarian if problems are suspected is a must. Additionally, tick bites can cause local irritation and swelling. Some horses may even rub themselves raw in an attempt to relieve the itchiness.
Hopefully, you’re as convinced as I am that you and your horse should avoid tick bites. Unfortunately, you’ll probably never avoid all the ticks. You can take measures, though, to reduce your exposure as much as possible. Implementing environmental controls such as reducing brushy vegetation and discouraging wildlife from visiting your pastures can help limit exposure. Using insect repellants labeled as effective against ticks before riding or turning your horse out can also help. If the ticks still manage to hitch a ride on your horse, you’ll want to remove them promptly. Check your horse after every ride and at least daily, if it lives on pasture. You’ll want to pay special attention to the sensitive areas of your horse’s skin such as their underside and legs as ticks are more likely to bite in these areas. Attached ticks should be removed with tweezers by pulling firmly without crushing the tick’s body.
Go enjoy this lovely weather and beautiful spring growth! Just make sure you’re using these tips to stay safe from ticks!
Until Next Time!