Can Humans Get Horse Lice?

Jessica McDaniel
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Can Humans Get Horse Lice?

Snails are a common house pest in the United Kingdom and throughout Europe. They are thought to have been introduced into the UK in the mid-1850s and are now found in most homes. They are also present in the natural environment including open water bodies such as ponds and slow-flowing streams. Snails lay up to 200 eggs per year and will eat just about any organic material whether it is living or dead. If you find snails in your garden, these can attract more snails and lead to various problems.

Snails are generally difficult to control as they can move to better protected and moist areas where pesticides cannot reach them. Avoiding areas that contain snail habitat is the best way to reduce the risk of getting them in your garden. It is also helpful to keep your garden free from rubbish or any other place which may be attractive to snails.

Pet owners can take steps to ensure snails do not get into their home. It is good to regularly check your walls, cracks and crevices, plant pots and pet bowls. Any snail that is found should be picked up using a sticky paper or a rolled up piece of card.

Horse Lice

Humans can get horse lice, but it's unlikely and very rarely happens.

The only people who will likely have horse lice are people who work directly with horses, such as grooms, stable hands, horse trainers, farriers, and veterinarians. Since these people typically live in the same household with their animals, they’re more prone to contracting the parasite.

If any of the horse lice (Linognathus vituli) fall off the horse and onto a person, they can sometimes stay there, just as if they were a horse louse, and lay eggs, and start a new infestation. If you've ever found a tick on your skin or a flea jumping off a dog onto you, you know how this works.

Also, horse lice can also be transmitted to clothing and blankets and carried over to humans. So if you've been around horses and still notice lice on your skin, check your clothes too.

The horse louse is similar to a bird louse, so they're very specific to their host. They are parasites that naturally live on horse skin and feed off dead skin cells and debris that is already on the horse. It is transmitted when a horse louse jumps off the horse and onto another horse. It’s not going to jump off a horse and onto you.

Horse Lice: Haematopinus Asini

Horse lice are wingless insects that are about 3 mm long. They are parasitic and feed on blood. They attach themselves to the body of their host, usually on the head and neck areas, but some may be found on the back, legs, and genital area. Humans cannot get lice from other humans.

Like all other lice, they cause irritation and itching, especially when they are attached to the scalp. If a large number of lice are bothering you, you can visit a doctor. Options include medicines, which are effective in killing the lice or shampooing the hair to remove the lice eggs.

There are no known diseases that are caused by horse lice, however, there is a germ called Mycobacterium pasteri, which is related to tuberculosis, and can sometimes be found on the lice. For this reason, it is important to check for lice infestation often and make sure you remove them properly, at least once a week. Also, be sure to follow the correct lice killing method to prevent the possibility of re-infection and spreading the parasite.

Horse Lice: Damalinia Equi

Horse lice are also called “pony lice” (D. equi) and rarely called “cattle lice” (D. bovis). Although at times these lice can be found on cattle, pigs, dogs, chickens and cats, they are much more commonly found on horses.

Horse lice are an annoyance to a horse, but a nuisance to us humans. They survive by sucking blood from the horse and living on the horse’s body. These lice will travel from horse to horse and once they head to your home, your home is the safest place for them.

These lice are rare on humans since they spend their entire life cycle on the horse and will not travel to humans. In some cases, these lice may be found on humans when a horse bites or an owner is bitten by a horse.

When on the human, these lice tend to stick to the skin, clothes, and hair particularly in and around the ears and face. They will attach to hair like a leech and feed on blood. They are very similar to the common head lice that we are all acquainted with as humans, but yet very different.


The lifecycle of horse lice is mainly dependent on the species, which includes any unnamed species. The lifecycle for the species Rhagoletis leukopus goes through a complete metamorphosis taking roughly 34 days, and 5 human life spans.

Larva – The first stage of the lifecycle is the larva stage, for which the female is responsible. Eggs are hatched into larvae (or maggots), usually directly within the environment and continue to feed on the original host. While on a horse, they feed on the horse's ears and the bottom of the horse's tail.

Instar – Larvae go in to the first molt before becoming an adult.

Nymph – After the first molt, the attack is able to reproduce. They feed on the horse's tissue. Males are not present during this stage and the female's lifecycle is able to reproduce, albeit in a more limited capacity. After the second molt, a nymph goes under it's final molt into a sexually reproductive adult louse.

Why Horses Get Lice

A horse lice is a tiny insect that cohabits with horses, attacking their skin and hair. Lice can live in any animal that has hair or fur, including humans.

Unlike humans, lice in horses are not looking for blood, instead they seek out a blood meal from the horse’s hide. They are parasites and enjoy sucking on the hair follicles and skin scales of the host. Lice develop in three stages; eggs, nymphs and adults. Just like human lice, they lay eggs on the hairs of the host. These eggs can hatch into nymphs after a few hours, where the nymphs grow and transform into adults. Once the eggs hatch, the lice can reproduce and manage to do so quickly. In as little as 14 days, lice can multiply into thousands of the parasites.

Once lice make a home in the horse, they aren’t scared of the new host and will continue to reproduce, thriving on the horse’s blood and hide. Lice often appear in large clusters, the size of half a centimeter or less in length. While lice in horses are not harmful, they can cause a lot of discomfort to your horse and decrease their appetite. They are easy to spot, especially when they invade the mane, tail and body of the horse.

Symptoms of Lice in Horses

Horse lice are tiny, grayish, six-legged parasitic insects that live and breed on hairless areas of horses like the head, neck, and shoulders. They are flattened, oval-shaped creatures, typically the size of a pinhead.

Scratching and biting are the two most common ways for a horse to develop lice infestations and these can lead to infections in severe cases. The lice can also spread from one horse to another through direct contact. One bloody or crusty, scabby spot is usually the sign of a biting lice. If you have plenty of wispy hairs, you may not notice the lice until the infestation is fairly large.

While lice infestation isn’t generally life threatening, a lot of lice can lead to reduced blood flow to the hair follicles, which can lead to hair loss.

How to Treat Horses with Lice

Horse lice is somewhat more common than you'd think. It most commonly affects horses with intensive management and is often found on adult horses that are kept in very hot and humid conditions.

For this reason, Horse lice is sometimes mistaken for mange, but this is not always the case. Horses suffering from mange will also have other symptoms such as excessive scratching and hair loss.

Horse lice can irritate your horse and cause them to exhibit some abnormal behavior like rubbing their body against trees, fences, etc.

Furthermore, it can cause infections if they get on broken skin or their coats.

Nonetheless, horse lice feed off the blood of their host horse, and luckily, they are harmless to humans.

Preventative Techniques

Since humans and horses have different skin compositions, horse lice can’t survive on the human body. So if you’re worried about getting horse lice, just don’t get on the horse or you can wear protective clothing or spray tights and cover the skin with with a roll-on insecticide before riding or going near horses.

Never go barefoot on a farm or field, to avoid having the horse or horse equipment bites that will lead to louse infestation.

If you find you are already infested with horse lice, you can treat them the same way you would treat head lice.

Since those tiny horse lice are so hard to catch, you’ll want to find a way to disinfect your clothing and bedding. Items containing horse hair should first be washed in hot water and dried several times.

Horse equipment, like saddles, blankets, bridles, whips, or grooming tools should be heated to 160 degrees for an hour prior to being disinfected with a surface disinfectant. If you’re on a dairy farm, disinfect your clothing or bedding with 96 degree water, which would be enough to kill the eggs or nymphs but would not be hot enough to damage your items.


The horse louse is a parasite that feeds off of blood and skin mucus. The horse louse, as with many other insects, is holometabolous, meaning that they undergo 4 developmental stages before becoming an adult.

The nymph is the most vulnerable stage of any insect. This is because the nymph can't defend or protect itself. The adult horse louse can be a pest if there aren't enough other lice competing for the same host. The adult horse louse will suck about 10% of its host's blood supply, which would be the red blood cells. As horse lice are parasites, they'll feed directly on open wounds.

People can get infected but it's a very rare occurrence. In the United States, only 2 cases have been documented in the past 100 years, with the most recent case being in 1963.