Researchers study link between ticks, horses

Researchers at the University of Saskatchewan are trying to get a better understanding of ticks and how they could affect horses.

They are asking Saskatchewan horse owners to participate in an ongoing survey by submitting samples of ticks they find on their animals.

The research stems from a case in 2010 in which a horse in southern Saskatchewan was found to have the tick-borne disease anaplasmosis.

“That was just a very unexpected disease to find in Saskatchewan because it’s a tick-borne disease and we’re not really supposed to have established populations of the ticks that carry that disease,” said Katharina Lohmann of the university’s Western College of Veterinary Medicine, who is leading the project.

Ticks do exist in Saskatchewan, including winter, Rocky Mountain and American dog, but anaplas-mosis is associated with the less common blacklegged tick, which can also carry a bacteria linked to lyme disease.

A horse in Saskatchewan that doesn’t travel is likely to encounter the blacklegged tick only when it’s introduced by migratory birds, said Lohmann.

“Realistically, the risk to a horse that resides in Saskatchewan and doesn’t leave the province is probably really slim,” she said. “But it apparently isn’t none, given that we saw it happen.”

These tick-borne diseases are treatable, but their diagnosis can be difficult. Lohmann hopes to raise awareness among horse owners.

“Anecdotally, it seems that the ticks are more present in certain parts of the province and less in other parts, but that hasn’t really been documented,” she said.

The survey, which Lohmann said will be conducted over several years, should provide researchers with a better idea. Owners submitting samples have to fill out a short questionnaire describing their animal’s location, travel history and how the ticks were attached to the animal.

“If we find any of the blacklegged ticks, it would be interesting if they’re actually infected ticks or not and how many of those we find,” she said.

“We’re not expecting to find very many.”

Researchers have also collected blood samples from horses in Saskatchewan, Manitoba and Ontario, which will be tested for antibodies that indicate if the animal has been in contact with the disease-causing bacteria.

“Hopefully, based on some preliminary data, we can then design further studies to maybe look into this a little bit further,” said Lohmann.

  • ticks don’t have to be alive to be submitted, but they should be shipped in sturdy plastic containers, such as pill bottles or film canisters
  • place moist tissue paper, paper towels or cotton in the container to protect the tick during shipping
  • include the horse owner’s name and contact information. The information will be kept confidential
  • include the location from where the ticks were collected
  • include the collection date
  • include the horse’s travel history for the two weeks before the ticks were discovered
  • use one container per horse and include the name of the horse for each container
  • use one submission form per horse, which are available on the Western College of Veterinary Medicine website
  • write the collection date on the container using a permanent marker or on a paper label attached to each container
  • Send tick samples to:
  • For more information, visit www.usask.ca/wcvm/veterinarians/equine_ticks.php.

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