Yeech! Is it LICE or Dandruff: How to diagnose Equine Lice and Get Rid of them!

Thursday, December 15th, 2011 | Filed under Handy Tips

I decided to groom the Shetlands, Dodger and Slick.  These shaggy ragamuffins are so hearty, I tend to wrestle with them and ‘noogie’ them more often than I groom them.

Today was their day.

So, I went out there manned with my portable grooming bucket and set to work.

As I took on the painstaking task of grooming Slick’s luxurious, thick, white and did I say THICK mane… I saw some white stuff at his hair root.

Immediately, I jumped back in horror.  LICE?!!


Yuk Yuk Yuk Yuk.  I’m a bad owner, I’m a bad owner, I’m a bad owner.

Once I had composed myself, I went back to the spot of nasty and looked again.

Hmmmm.  Kinda looks like dandruff.  Not sure.

I ran inside to consult Dr. Google.

Lice or Dandruff?!



I ran inside and then ran back outside to dump my lice infested (?) coat outside – then ran back inside and scrubbed my hands like a surgeon.

Once at my computer, I googled ‘Equine Lice’.

Here were some pics

Equine lice

Equine Lice up close


Lice look more like rice than snowflakes




After further inspection of photos and articles, I realized that Slick probably had dandruff.  Dry, flaky skin under his heavy winter mane.

Why did I determine that he had dandruff and not lice?  Here are some typical ways to determine the difference between lice and dandruff:

–Equine lice are yellowish brown, not white

–They look like rice, not snowflakes

–They move, have bodies and are shaped like bugs

–Lice usually only infest compromised, very young or very old horses.  Slick is a fairly healthy old pony.




So, I followed Dr. Google’s advice and went outside with my magnifying glass and my hand.

You see, the glass would let me see their color and shape more closely.  As stated above, equine lice are yellowy brown and they look like little bugs.

Also, gross as it is, if you put your hand on the affected area, the lice will gravitate towards the warmth.  When you lift your hand, there should be a pile of lice underneath.  Ugh.

OK, so I did both of those things.  To my elation, the flecks looked like white snowflake dandruff.  Nothing was moving.  Nothing had a head or teeth or legs.

Next, I put my hand over the most dandruffy area.  When I lifted it, nothing had changed.


But, just to be sure, I checked the places Dr. Google said that lice like most – the forelock forehead, the mane, whither and tail head.

Nothing.  I did see dry skin and dandruff throughout the roots of his mane, but nothing else.

Phew. Phew.

Lice are yellowish brown and attracted to warmth. If you put your hand over the area, they will swarm underneath it.



But what if it had been lice?  What would I have done to get rid of them?  Why did he have them?

Well, usually healthy horses don’t get lice.  If they do, it is usually because they got them from a new horse who has them.

Also, once lice are established in a barn or area, they will come back every year unless you get rid of them.


Oil smothers them and vinegar unglues them...



First, every article I read said to use Ivermectin internally while you get rid of the lice externally…

There were many ways to delouse a horse, from harsh chemicals to homemade remedies.

I liked these ideas the best:

a. Mayonnaise: (this one is for humans but could work for horses, too)

Apply mayonnaise thoroughly to the scalp and cover the hair with a plastic bag. Leave it for one hour and heat it with a blow dryer for 5 minutes. Rinse the hair and apply regular hair gel. Use a fine-toothed comb to remove nits and lice.

b. Vinegar:

Vinegar is an excellent home remedy for killing lice. Simply wash mane with vinegar and it’ll kill all the lice within two days!

c. Tea tree oil and olive oil:

Mix olive oil with tea tree oil and apply to the mane and rub into the scalp. Wait for half-an-hour or an hour before washing. Now, wash the mane to remove the oil and rinse the hair again with vinegar. This would loosen the ‘glue’ holding the nits to the hair shaft. Finally comb the hair to get rid of any remaining lice.

d. Neem oil or neem leaves:

Work neem oil into the hair and let it remain for an hour or so. Shampoo and comb the hair to remove dead lice. If neem leaves are available, boil a handful and soak the mane roots in the neem water, of course, after the water cools down a bit! Now, rinse with plain water. This ‘bitter’ remedy will clear the lice from the hair.

e. Olive oil:

Soak the scalp in olive oil and leave it overnight. Wash hair normally to get rid of the oil. This done, rinse now with white vinegar and let it remain for 5 minutes. Afterwards, rinse the hair with lukewarm water to remove the vinegar.

I also read that ANY oil or greasy product (that is skin safe) would work to suffocate the lice and eggs.  Vaseline was mentioned several times.  Olive oil, baby oil, any kind of thick oil, Dawn Dishwashing liquid, cold cream… would do the trick.  Rinsing with vinegar (as long as the scalp wasn’t open and oozing – ouch) seemed to be the finishing touch as it unglues the sticky egg as well as rinses clean the hair.

This work, too.



Also mentioned were the chemical dusts, shampoos and potions.  However, every single vet mentioned ‘using caution’ and ‘following directions carefully’ when using any of these chemicals.  Also, make sure to check back every week for a month to make sure the eggs are not hatching anymore.

–Farnum Horse Delicer

–Pyrethrin Shampoos

–Sevin Dust

–Farnum Equi-Spot

–Canine lice dip


This chemical was recommended by vets - but use properly.



I ran through my house looking for anything oily – just in case – and also to lubricate his itchy scalp.

I had no vaseline and kinda hated the thought of using that on dandruff and I only had enough mayo for about one sandwich so…  I raked Slicks mane with my tiniest toothed comb and I applied the only thick and oily stuff I had – Equi-Spa Not So Sweet Itch formula.  (I usually use it for tail docks when they start rubbing at the end of Summer.  It relieves itch so I figured it would sooth his scalp, loosen the dandruff and condition his hair.

Slick didn't have lice but he had a very dry and itchy scalp (bad owner, me!) I cut away the hair at the base of his mane and treated it with the only hair oil I had - Not so Sweet Itch - I combed it in and and I felt OK leaving it in.

I groomed him like crazy and oiled up his scalp, started him on Equion. It wasn't lice but his skin was very scaly under there.


I also berated myself (muttering softly under my breath) for not re-purchasing my favorite all-time coat and hoof product, EQUION, when I ran out of it this summer.  I swear to Horsegod, I have been using it for 20 years and my trainers always compliment my horses’ coats and feet.  (no affiliation)

So, after I quit banging my head against the barn, I called up Monty (local dealer) and he came and met me with a huge supply of Equion.   Luckily, it is manufactured in my area but usually I just have it shipped to me.  Best stuff ever!  No frills, no fancy advertising – it just works.

If you want to try Equion, I totally endorse it (linked here – no affiliation).  When I was breeding, it helped my mares cycle and not hold onto their placentas – as well as kept all my show horses’ coats dazzling.  And, I usually never have any hoof issues.  I am sure not using Equion in the past months helped create Slick’s itchy scalp.

I have started Slick (and everyone else) back on it.  In a month, I’ll show you “after” pics of his mane scalp.


IMO, the best coat/hoof supplement EVER. No frills, just good stuff. I ran out and picked some up immediately. I had run out. Bad owner.


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11 comments have been posted...

  1. dawndi Post author

    We are equine bloggers – not masters of diatomaceous earth, so not sure about the specifics of Diatom Red Dragon.
    We have purchased diatomaceous earth online via google.

  2. Cecilia

    Years ago I used to buy diatomaceous earth in the pet store to use in a salrt water aquarium. Where can I get it now? Where can I get diatom red dragon? Thanks

  3. Brenda

    We have used Diatom ( red dragon ) in the past ( also on chickens / ducks) it does work , it if infection is bad can be mixed into a paste & painted on for hard to reach under bellies / armpit areas, this is a mineral powder & is safe to use on animals & around children , dogs etc .
    Hope this may help some of you :)

  4. Cynthia

    Thank you all for this great bounty of info- very helpful. I’ll be at the barn looking at my horses with a magnifying glass tomorrow…

  5. Ingrid

    This article just saved me, what I thought was dandruff in my horses armpit area is actually lice. Thank you for the wonderful article and for the wonderful and very helpful comments.

  6. Nancy

    Thanks for an informative article. My horse is seriously itchy at present and I saw what i thought was dandruff on his coat. I began to wonder if he has some type of lice but could see nothing. Thanks for the information , the pictures and suggestions for wiping out t any thing that may have found a home on my horse.

  7. Jenn Johnson

    I read the entirety of “lice or dandruff?” I felt like I could add some information. There are 2 different types of lice that can be found on equine. The type you described live of the dead skin cells in the mane, tail, etc. there is another type that suck blood and live in the tender, soft skin ie.under the legs, side of the tail and chin as well as up under belly between legs. I recently discovered these nasty critters on my brand new gelding!! I did not see any symptoms, signs or bugs-until I disturbed a “nest” then they were everywhere!!! He wanted to paw the ground as I was grooming him. I started to scratch under his front leg (right where he cannot reach) he actually held his leg up as he turned to look at me like “you got it! Keep going” There were nits and again the lice suddenly spread all over his body. Yucky!! I wanted to cry, I could see the relief in his eyes as I discovered these disgusting little blood suckers. They also live on chickens, pigeons, etc. (never house horses with chickens) Like I am doing. (As I’m about to re-arrange that situation) anyways- Castile soap, lathered is perfect avenue for tea tree oil, rinse and repeat. “Damanalia” I believe is the name of these pests.. They can be very harmful to the animal, anemia, hair loss, infection, and compromised immune system for starters.(emotional and behavior problems as well) just wanted to let you know about the blood suckers, in addition to the dead skin eaters..

  8. Linda

    Where can one get Diatomaceous? If it’s just dandruff, what can be done in the middle of winter when they cannot be bathed?

  9. Mary

    Well, I have to admit, I am a little itchy right now. Glad it was just a case of dry skin. It’s funny how just the mention of the word lice sends shock-waves throughout your entire body. yuk yuk yuk is right!

  10. Kris

    There is one other very effective treatment for lice (and other external parasites) that is also much easier and far less messy. It can also be used in the winter without getting your animal wet or sticky. It Diatomaceous earth (DE). This is a powder and you simply rub it into the coat. We use this on our organic beef cattle and chickens as well as any of the rescued equines I bring in occasionally. It works great, its easy and totally safe.

    Something else that you may find reassuring is that lice are very species specific. In other words, cattle lice will not infect horses, horse lice will not infect you, etc.

    I hope this is helpful to you.

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