Researchers know that lice can be a serious welfare issue for affected horses. But just how prevalent are they, especially in developing countries? Recent research in Africa revealed a high incidence of equine lice infestations—especially in saddle horses.

As many as 28.8% of horses in Ethiopia are probably infested with lice, according to the results of a survey carried out in central Oromia by Bersissa Kumsa, PhD, of Aix Marseille University, part of the French National Institute for Agricultural Research, in Marseille, France, and his research team. Most of the infestations were found in the highland areas, and most of the affected animals were saddle horses, he said.

Kumsa said cart horses tended to benefit from better care because, as working animals, their health is important to the owner’s profits. Their owners also tend to be more knowledgeable about veterinary health because they work in towns where they have access to such information.

Saddle horses are usually found out in the African countryside and aren’t usually used for financial gain, Kumsa noted. Plus, “many owners don’t have sufficient knowledge about equine veterinary health,” he relayed.

Horses can be infested with two major categories of lice: biting lice (Bovicola equi) and sucking lice (Haematopinus asini). Biting lice feed by biting the skin, causing severe irritation, Kumsa said. Sucking lice, on the other hand, feed by sucking blood from the horse; a horse infested with a substantial number of sucking lice can suffer significant blood loss, he added.

Some owners will recognize a lice infestation when th