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Groom Carefully as Tick Season Fires Up

By Angela Mannick

Spring 2012

Temperatures are warming, pastures are greening, and the flying, creeping, and crawling pests are making their yearly appearance. One pest that horse owners need to be particularly mindful about is the tick. Ticks are masters of "hide and seek."

We all care a lot about our Arabian horses and we make sure to vaccinate and worm them regularly. Checking for ticks should be a common practice for every horse owner, especially once warmer weather moves in and if you live or keep your horse near wooded and grassy areas.

What's up with ticks?

Ticks are known to be carriers of bacteria that cause Lyme disease. Lyme disease affects animals and people differently. The most common symptoms that indicate your horse might be infected with Lyme disease are lameness and behavioral changes. The lameness is usually found in larger joints (not the foot) and can shift from one leg to another. You might also detect signs of stiffness in your horse's limbs. Behavioral changes can be more difficult to detect. They might show an unwillingness to work and some owners have even noticed an increase in irritability in their horses and a change in attitude. Don't rely too heavily on seeing your horse develop a temperature to know they are infected. Some horses never spike a temperature with Lyme disease. With treatment, the symptoms usually return to normal relatively quickly.

The adult tick, which is present in the fall and early spring, is the stage most likely to feed on horses. The adult tick is usually big enough to be found while simply grooming your horse. Ticks are sneaky, but usually hide around the head, throatlatch area, belly, and under the tail, but be sure to also look inside your horse's ears, forelock and mane. Develop your own system for checking for ticks while you do your daily grooming and if you find a raised bumpy area, make sure to take a closer look.

Eeek! I found a tick! Now what?

The best way to remove a tick is by grabbing it with a pair of tweezers gently at its mouthparts, where it is attached to your horse. Carefully and slowly pull gently backwards to remove the tick. Be sure to avoid rupturing the tick as you remove it. Once the tick is removed you can either place it in a closed container if your parents want to get it tested or you should dispose of them in the toilet. Either way, prompt removal is your best bet at minimizing the risks for Lyme disease in your horses.

What can we do?

Although there is no vaccine currently for tick prevention, there are a few repellant products out there to help minimize them. Make sure to apply any repellant you find for tick prevention in the areas most common where they like to hide. Don't let the repellants lure you into a false sense of security; make sure to continue to keep a look out for the really sneaky ones! The secret is that ticks need to attach and feed for 12-24 hours before they start transmitting the bacteria into your horse. Catching them early is key!

Consult your veterinarian for more advice on disease control or if you suspect your horse is showing symptoms of Lyme disease.

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