Let’s Go Ridin’ – for Nov. 13, 2008

With cold temperatures and winter on its way, your horse is under the protection of a heavy, thick winter coat. With that thick coat, there occasionally comes the chance of your horse getting those nasty little critters known as lice.

Lice can reproduce all year but they tend to become a bigger problem during the winter. The entire life cycle of lice is spent on the animal. There are two types of lice that can attack a horse. Horse-biting lice are about one-tenth of an inch long, chestnut brown in colour with a yellow abdomen and dark crossbands. They are very flat with a broad, rounded head and slender legs. They have chewing mouthparts and feed on dry skin secretions from the skin and hair. The eggs are close to the horse’s skin and seem to be glued to the hair. It takes five to 10 days for the eggs to hatch. Nymphs begin feeding immediately, reaching maturity in three to four weeks.

The other critters are called horse-sucking lice and are approximately an eighth of an inch long and slate grey in colour. This type is the more common and more irritating type. They have a very broad abdomen with long, narrow heads. The eggs are stuck to the hair and hatch 11 to 20 days later. Nymphs begin to suck blood immediately and complete their development in two to four weeks.

Signs of an animal contacting lice include rubbing and scratching, scruffy skin and an unkempt hair coat. This is often first noticed around the head, neck, mane and tail. Patches of hair rubbed off are definite signs of lice infestation. Animals having this problem should be inspected on a routine basis and treated right away, as a heavy infestation can cause the animal to become anemic, requiring immediate treatment.

Insecticides in powder or spray form are available for the control and treatment of lice. As well, shampoos specially formulated for control of lice have proven effective. Lice can transfer from one animal to another when in close contact, and also from infected blankets, brushes and tack. When you treat your horse for lice, it’s with the same product to ensure that the problem is eradicated. A good feeding and grooming program is essential in the control of lice. Grooming does not remove or kill lice but definitely helps spot the problem before it gets out of hand.

Keep a close eye on your pony for any signs of infestations and treat any problems promptly so he will be healthy and happy all winter.

Till next time, stay in the saddle, and never say whoa in a bad spot!

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