Ecovet Blog

What's the Big Deal With Ticks on My Horse?

What are these strange parasites, and why are they on my horse? More importantly, how do I get rid of them?

While fleas are essentially wingless flies, ticks are from the spider family. This does make a difference because of how they might interact with the horse host.  

Egg – Larva – Nymph – Adult

Each stage takes a blood meal before progressing to the next stage. The larva has six legs and usually feeds on rodents. (This is when a tick typically picks up contagious diseases.) The nymph (seed tick) can be as small as a pin head or sesame seed. It will feed on rodents and mammals. The adult feeds on mammals – maybe you, maybe your horse, maybe your kids. The bites themselves can be virtually painless due the numbing technology that ticks possess during the feeding process.


Clinically, we typically have issues in the spring and fall when we are faced with sick horses that have a fever and are very dull. These mysterious fevers of unknown origins (FUOs for short) can be difficult to diagnose. Geographically, many are seen in the Northeast, Mid-Atlantic and Great Lakes areas ... the nation’s topmost hotbeds of human tick-borne disease. However, they can happen in every state.

This pattern led some to suspect that the culprits of the fever could be ticks and the difficult-to-diagnose diseases they carry. Often these horses are diagnosed with one of two diseases spread by ticks: equine ehrlichiosis or Lyme disease.

Equine Ehrlichiosis

This straightforward infection has long been referred to as equine ehrilichiosis. The disease is now officially referred to as equine granulocytic ehrlichiosis (EGE) but the causative agent has been reclassified as Anaplasma phagocytophilum. The disease is spread to horses by a variety of ticks of the species Ixodes, including deer ticks and sheep ticks. Although the severity of EGE varies, there does appear to be consistency in some of the clinical signs.

  • The horse generally becomes sick three to 14 days after the infected tick bite.
  • The fever in the early stage of the disease is generally very high (103° to 106° F).
  • Younger horses under 4 years old tend to have mild or no clinical signs, whereas geriatric horses may become more ill.
  • Others clinical signs may include lower limb edema, depression, reluctance to move, and depressed appetite.

Lyme Disease

Lyme disease seems to be a much more controversial disease that occurs frequently in humans and dogs and may occur in more limited numbers in horses.

A wide variety of clinical signs has been attributed to Lyme disease in horses. The most believable of these clinical manifestations of Lyme disease are low-grade fever, muscle soreness, stiffness and multiple limb lameness. There are published reports of a variety of other ailments associated with Lyme disease and numerous anecdotal reports of every clinical sign imaginable. Experimental infection of ponies with the Lyme organism resulted in some pathologic changes but no overt clinical signs. Until the disease can be reproduced experimentally, there will always be controversy as to the relevance of this disease in the horse.

Detecting and Preventing Ticks

Detection and prevention can be a challenge. Sometimes the ticks are evident on the face and ears, but they also can hide in the groin and “armpit” regions.

Prevention falls into two categories. First is decreasing exposure by managing the environment. Mow and remove brush to eliminate the protection that ticks need to survive while they aren't on hosts. When possible, use temporary fencing to keep horses out of areas that cannot be cleared. Habitat management is the best long-term route to reducing tick problems. In addition, cleared areas discourage wildlife, which can reintroduce ticks, and might provide improved grazing areas.  

The second prevention category is spray-on or roll-on products containing cypermethrin or permethrin, which can provide protection during rides in infested areas. According to Chris Adolph, DVM, MS, DACVM (Parasitology), “Efficacy is not the challenge, it's the persistency. They [the products] just don't last very long.”

Ecovet has been earning positive reviews for its tick effectiveness and duration of action. Dust, dirt, perspiration and water shorten protection time, making reapplication an important part of the protection plan. Horses pick up ticks as they move through infested areas, so make sure to concentrate on their legs, bellies and faces. Most importantly, check your horses regularly for ticks during your ride and thoroughly when finished.

Ecovet Love From a Professional Groom

We were so pleased to receive this wonderful feedback about Ecovet fly spray from the good folks at ProEquineGrooms.com:

"As a professional Groom, I understand the importance of reliable fly control measures at the barn. Insects and flies can transmit disease, cause skin reactions, and create an uncomfortable environment for you and your horse. Eco-Vet Fly Repellent addresses all of these issues with ingredients that are safe and reliable. The naturally derived fatty acids create an invisible barrier on your horses, insects are fooled into believing your horse is not really there!

"The simple act of spraying a few spritzes on your horse also clears your work area and cross ties of pests for the day. While the smell is unusual, it’s not offensive, and definitely effective. I also appreciate that Eco-Vet invested in EPA approval for this revolutionary and effective way to combat flies and insects at the barn!"

(If you're interested in equine grooming/clipping ... or anything horse-related at all, really ... ProEquineGrooms.com is a fun and informative resource. Check it out!)

Helping the Allergic Horse

Fighting allergies is very frustrating. Unfortunately, we never really cure allergies but we can find ways to manage them. 

Horses can be allergic to a variety of things but Culicoides species, which cause sweet itch, can be particularity aggravating.

Looking at how Culicoides feed can help formulate the best defense plan.

Usually the males just hang around the horse waiting for the females. After breeding, the females need a blood meal to finish the life cycle and lay their eggs. One bite from a midge can raise the histamine levels (what causes itchiness) for 1 hour before returning to normal. This is the immediate reaction.

Some horses also have a delayed itchy reaction to the bite. One night of midges’ unrestricted access to an allergic horse can take 3-6 weeks to resolve ... even if the horse receives no new bites.

That is why it is important to have the best control possible.

A good study about sweet itch in horses in British Columbia gives us some other clues. The midges prefer certain areas on the horse:

Image source: The Hypersensitivity of Horses to Culicoides Bites in British Columbia, Gail S. Anderson, Peter Belton and Nicholas Kleider, Can Vet J Volume 29

We think that they land in these areas and climb down the hairs to the skin. Then the female will bite multiple times during the 5-10 minute feeding period per midge.

We need to really concentrate on protecting these areas.

Clinically, I've found that for an allergic horse, it is best to start with twice-a-day treatments focusing on these regions. Sometimes using a soft cloth or mitt allows for a more effective way to apply Ecovet. On the tail head, mane and withers, I have advised some clients to use the stream setting on the bottle to penetrate these areas more effectively.

Other tips include stabling at night if possible and using fans in the stall areas because midges are weak fliers. Once the allergic reaction starts, contact your veterinarian to discuss ways of deceasing the severity of the allergic reaction.

As they say, an ounce of prevention ...

Before and After: Conga's Story

Ute from Ohio kindly shared these photos of her beautiful mare, Conga, before and after Ecovet. She says:

“[My mare] was covered in bumps from bug bites. Applying the product was a little bit of a shock ... the odor was very strange, but within a couple of minutes, the tail swishing seized and she seemed so much more comfortable. In [the after] picture she is no longer covered in bumps and grazing in peace.”

Many thanks to Ute and Conga! We are so happy Ecovet helped get rid of those bumps.

Before and After: Azzy's Story

Thanks so much to Lisa for sharing her donkey's before-and-after Ecovet story! We are happy Azzy has found some relief from sweet itch with Ecovet.

"Ecovet Fly Spray has been a miracle for my donkey who has suffered from Sweet Itch every Spring to Fall. As you can see from the before picture, he wore a fly mask, hood, sheet, leg wraps and even hoof boots because he would chew and rub almost his whole body. He had sores all over his belly that needed daily washing and medicating. After trying Ecovet (thanks to a FB group) he has a full mane and tail, a hairy healthy belly and does not need ANY fly protection at all. I used to dread warm weather but thanks to Ecovet we can spend time doing fun things now and its no longer a stressful time for both of us."

-- Lisa M. in Connecticut

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