Reducing Risk from Tick-Borne Diseases

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the numbers of human cases of Lyme disease and other tick-borne diseases (TBD) reported each year in the United States (US) have been increasing steadily, currently totaling tens of thousands annually.  The US Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service has identified Lyme disease and anaplasmosis as the most common tick-borne diseases for horses in the US.  In some regions, 50% of horses may show antibodies to the Lyme disease pathogen, but only about 10% show clinical symptoms.  Over 70% of the ticks reported to feed on horses also feed on humans, transmitting the same pathogens causing TBD.

Ticks can also be an irritant to people and animals.  In severe infestations, ticks can cause anemia in small and young animals, and in some instances, a single tick bite can cause paralysis.

The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and US Department of Agriculture (USDA) have developed a smart, sensible, and sustainable approach to reduce the transmission of tick-borne diseases through tick management practices.  The recommendations below help people protect themselves and their horses from TBD.

In addition to providing information for protection, an effective tick integrated pest management plan includes a tick surveillance program.  Currently, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention collects reported TBD data in humans.  Discussions are under way in the federal and private sectors on appropriate methods to collect tick surveillance data including tick identification and species distribution in the US.  This type of collected information could be very useful in identifying areas posing the highest risk to horses and their riders from TBD in the future.

*References are available on the Quarterly Web site.

Tick Management Practices


The following considerations apply to both people and horses:  Ticks can be found in backyards, pastures, parks, along trials, and other riding areas.  Ticks can be carried on mammals, wildlife, and birds.  Ticks can also be carried into homes by dogs and cats as well as on clothing.  Prompt tick removal with tweezers is essential to reduce the transmission of pathogens causing TBD.  The nymph stage ofthe tick equals the size of the head of a pin.  Apply EPA registered pesticide products (repellants/tick control) to people, pets, and horses according to the label directions.

Protect Yourself

Take the following steps when participating in outdoor activities:  Wear long pants, a long-sleeved shirt, hat, gloves, and boots (covering lacings with duct tape) while outside.  Wear permethrin-treated clothing.  Conduct daily body tick checks (personal inspection using a mirror).  Shower immediately after being outside using a coarse washcloth to scrub the skin in order to dislodge any small ticks missed by the inspection.

Protect Your Horse

Steps to take before and after you ride your horse include:  Before riding, inspect your horse and remove attached ticks while grooming, especially the lower legs, on and under the tail, along the mane, and give special attention to warm/dark thin-skinned areas such as between the hind legs (udder or sheath areas, too), behind the elbow, around the throatlatch and ears.  After riding, check your horse for ticks.  Re-apply pesticide (if recommended by label directions) especially to horses returned to pastures with risk factors (shade, tall grass, brush, weeds).

Land Management

Manage your property to reduce tick populations:  Remove leaf litter, brush, and weeds at the edge of the lawn or pasture.  Create a nine-foot buffer zone on horse trails and pasture boundaries frequented by deer or other wildlife by clearing litter, brush, weeds, and branches.  Discourage formulation of wildlife habitats on farms by feeding grain in containers and keeping grains in tightly sealed containers.  Maintain the pasture at a length that allows for adequate pasture grass and yet reduces tick-seeking sites.  Prevent horses from grazing in wooded areas by installing fencing.  Consult your local Cooperative Extension agent for recommendations.

Article courtesy of Equine Disease Quarterly


Candace Brassard (703) 305-6598

Denise Greenway (703) 308-8263

US Environmental Protection Agency, Washington D.C.

Angela James (970) 494-7278

US Department of Agriculture, Fort Collins, Colorado


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