Essential oils in the management of the donkey louse, Bovicola ocellatus

Equine Vet J. 2016 May;48(3):285-9. doi: 10.1111/evj.12431. Epub 2015 May 4.


Reasons for performing study: Chewing lice are widespread and clinically compromising parasites of livestock and equids. Their management is complicated by growing levels of resistance to commonly applied insecticides. Hence, the development of novel approaches to their control is of major clinical interest.

Objectives: To assess the effects of incorporating the essential oils of tea tree and lavender into a grooming programme for populations of donkeys with natural infestations of Bovicola ocellatus in the UK and Ireland when louse populations were at their winter seasonal peak.

Study design: In vivo field trial.

Methods: Suspensions of 5% (v/v) tea tree or lavender oil or an excipient only control were groomed into the coats of winter-housed donkeys (n = 198) on 2 occasions, 2 weeks apart. Louse counts were conducted before each application and 2 weeks later.

Results: After 2 applications, the groups groomed with lavender or tea tree oil suspensions had a significant reduction in louse intensity, with a mean decline in louse abundance of 78% (95% confidence interval 76-80%). Louse numbers in the groups groomed with excipient only either did not change or increased significantly. Donkey hair length had no effect on the decline in louse numbers.

Conclusions: These results demonstrate that the inclusion of essential oil suspensions during grooming can be used to manage louse populations successfully.

Keywords: Bovicola; donkey; ectoparasite; essential oils; lice.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Equidae*
  • Insecticides / therapeutic use
  • Ischnocera / drug effects*
  • Lavandula
  • Lice Infestations / drug therapy
  • Lice Infestations / veterinary*
  • Oils, Volatile / therapeutic use*
  • Plant Oils / therapeutic use*
  • Tea Tree Oil / therapeutic use*


  • Insecticides
  • Oils, Volatile
  • Plant Oils
  • Tea Tree Oil
  • lavender oil