Toxicity of essential and non-essential oils against the chewing louse

The toxicity of six plant essential oils to the chewing louse, Bovicola (Werneckiella) ocellatus collected from donkeys, was examined in laboratory bioassays. The oils examined were: tea-tree (Melaleuca alternifolia), lavender (Lavandula angustifolia), peppermint (Mentha piperita), eucalyptus (Eucalyptus globulus Labillardiere), clove bud (Eugenia caryophyllata) and camphor (Cinnamomum camphora). All except camphor oil showed high levels of toxicity, with significant dose-dependent mortality and an LC50 at concentrations of below 2% (v/v). Hundred percent mortality was achieved at concentrations of 5–10% (v/v). Two essential oil components: eugenol and (+)-terpinen-4-ol showed similar levels of toxicity. The data suggest that these botanical products may offer environmentally and toxicologically safe, alternative veterinary pediculicides for the control of ectoparasitic lice.

Start page
End page
Publication date

Seasonal infestation of donkeys by lice: phenology, risk-factors and management

A longitudinal study was undertaken over a 21 month period to examine the seasonal abundance of lice infesting donkeys, the risk factors which predispose donkeys to infestation and the effectiveness of louse management. All the lice seen were Bovicola (Werneckiella) ocellatus. A strong seasonal pattern, which was correlated with mean monthly temperature, was observed with higher prevalence and intensity in the cooler, winter months (October-March). Overall infestation in these animals was over-dispersed, suggesting that some individuals are strongly predisposed to infestation. Donkey age and mean hair length were characteristics which affected louse prevalence: older and younger donkeys and donkeys with longer hair harboured the highest numbers of lice. However, the practice of coat-clipping, to reduce the infestation, resulted in a lower louse prevalence only in the summer, suggesting that clipping is not an effective form of louse control in cooler months. Higher louse burdens were associated with larger areas of visible excoriation and hair damage, suggesting that B. ocellatus does adversely impact animal welfare. However, the ability of animal carers to estimate louse presence or absence accurately on an individual donkey was not sufficiently high to allow targeted selective treatment of heavily infested animals to be employed effectively. As animals are housed in closed herds these findings suggest that clipping in the summer and treating all animals with insecticide in late autumn, prior to turn-in may be an effective louse management strategy.

Publication date

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

Reasons for study

Chewing lice are widespread and clinically compromising parasites of livestock and equines. 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.


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.


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.


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% CI 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.


These results demonstrate that the inclusion of essential oil suspensions during grooming can be used to manage louse populations successfully. This article is protected by copyright. All rights reserved.

Publication date
Subscribe to ectoparasite