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Fur-eating lice in horses

Has your horse lost their fur in patches but you don't see any wounds? Then it may have suffered from fur-eating lice (Bovicola equi), a common ailment that leads to patchy hair loss. Here you can read more about symptoms, how lice are transmitted and how you can treat your horse.

Symptoms of fur-eating lice

  • Losing fur
  • Hairless patches on the body
  • Some horses become itchy, although others can be asymptomatic and don't experience itchiness

Where on the horse are the lice usually found?

Lice can be found all over the body but are often found on the neck, bow and at the bottom of the mane, root of the tail and on the back. Horses are mainly affected by lice during autumn and winter.

Which horses suffer from fur-eating lice?

Horses with longer fur, young, old or horses with reduced general condition are affected more often. But horses of all ages can be get lice.

What do fur-eating lice look like?

Fur-eating lice are reddish-brown, a couple of millimetres long and visible to the naked eye. Just as the name indicates, it does not suck blood but eats off the hairline, so that the horse looks shaggy and "moth-eaten". Blood-sucking lice are yellowish-brown and slightly larger, about 3 millimetres long.

How to treat a horse with lice

Treatment is via a lice killer (shampoo, spray or pour-on), but consult your vet before starting treatment. Repeat the treatment at least once every two weeks. Horses with long fur may need to be clipped in the affected areas before treatment.

Sanitize and clean to avoid re-infection

Stall area, equipment such as blankets, brushes, scrapers and all other items that have been in contact with the horse must be thoroughly cleaned to avoid re-infection.

How are lice transmitted between horses?

Fur-eating lice (Bovicola equi) are mainly transmitted by direct contact between affected horses and equipment. They don't infect humans, but humans can carry them with them, for example through their hair. Be careful about washing your hands and changing your clothes. You can also use a hat, scarf or similar to prevent them from being passed on through the hair and infecting more horses.

When do I need to contact a vet?

If the hairless patches are not caused by lice and are due to something else, it is important that a veterinarian examines the horse and investigates what is causing them.

Avoid spreading infection

Horses can suffer from various infectious diseases. It's important to act quickly to reduce the spread of the infection.

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