Reducing Risk from Tick-Borne Diseases

Credit: Thinkstock

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the number of human cases of Lyme disease and other tick-borne diseases reported each year in the United States 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 U.S. 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 tick-borne diseases.

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 tick-borne diseases.

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 tick-borne diseases 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 tick-borne diseases in the future.

Credit: Thinkstock Carefully remove ticks with tweezers, making sure you don’t leave any mouth parts in the skin of yourself or your horse.

Tick Management Practices


The following considerations apply to both people and horses:

  • Ticks can be found in backyards, pastures, parks, along trails, 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 tick-borne diseases.
  • The numph stage of the tick equals the size of the head of a pin.
  • Apply EPA-registered pesticide products (repellents/tick control) to people, pets and horses according ot 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 l wer 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, and around the throatlatch and ears.
  • After riding, check your horse for ticks.
  • Re-apply pesticide (if recommended by lebel directions) especially to horses returned to pastures with risk factors (shade, tall grass, brush or weeds).

Land Management

  • Manage your property to reduce tick populations:Remove leaf litter, brush and weeds at the edge of the lawn or pastures.
  • 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 formation of wildlife habitats on farms by feeding grain in containers and keeping grains in tightly sealed containers.
  • Maintain the pastures at a length that allows for adequate pasture grassa dn yet reduces tick-seeking sites.
  • Prevent horses from grazing in wooded areas by installing fencing.
  • Consult your local Copperative Extension agent for other recommendations.


Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Division of Vector-Borne Diseases. Tick-borne disease data in humans. Page last updated: June 17, 2014.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Tick resources. Page last updated: May 5, 2014.

Stafford III, Kirby C. 2004. Tick Management Handbook. Connecticut Agricultural Experiment Station. New Haven, CT. .

US Department of Agriculture, Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, Veterinary Services. Horse Disease Information. Last modified: May 30, 2014.

US Environmental Protection Agency, Office of Pesticide Programs, PestWise. Last updated on May 27, 2014.

For more information contact Candace Brassard, (703) 305-6598, or Denise Greenway, (703) 308-8263, of the US Environmental Protection Agency Washington, DC; or contact Dr. Angela James, (970) 494-7278,, of the US Department of Agriculture Fort Collins, Colorado.

This article is from the Equine Disease Quarterly, published by the University of Kentucky College of Agriculture, Food and Environment Department of Veterinary Science and sponsored by Lloyd’s of London and its Kentucky agents. You may subscribe to this publication for free. 






"*" indicates required fields

The latest from Stable Management, the #1 resource for horse farm and stable owners, managers and riding instructors, delivered straight to your inbox.

Additional Offers

Additional Offers
This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.