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Equine Skin Conditions

Content supplied by Absorbine.

Recognizing, treating, and preventing skin conditions on horses

Your horse's skin is up to four times more sensitive that a human's. Their skin is not only more sensitive to touch, but with their thick coats and outdoor lives they are very susceptible to skin conditions. Here is some general knowledge to help sort through the many issues that can arise.

An investigative approach to equine skin care is your best defense. There are multiple causes of equine skin conditions ranging from allergies, to bacteria and fungus, to behavioral issues and insect bites. Excess moisture in their environment is a big factor. Consistent grooming, managing turn-out and pasture time during rainy seasons, proper nutrition and veterinary care will all help reduce instances of equine skin conditions, but they are very common and cannot be prevented 100% of the time. When equine skin conditions do show up, you need to be able to recognize them and address the cause, while also treating the condition so that it does not progress. Note that lighter skinned horses (pink skin instead of dark skin) can be more susceptible to skin conditions.

When do I know my horse has a skin condition?

  • Equine skin conditions often present with scabby lesions, bumps (hives) or reddened areas.
  • Hair may be falling out in an area.
  • Sometimes there are areas of raised hair with lesions, flaky skin or scabs underneath.
  • You see your horse obsessively rubbing or scratching a specific area.

Common Equine Skin Conditions

Rain Rot (dermatophilosis)

Rain rot is a bacterial infection brought on by moisture. Horses naturally carry the bacteria with them and when their skin stays wet for extended periods of time, the bacteria take hold.

Signs of rain rot:

  • Lesions or scabs
  • The hair is sometimes raised in the area.
  • It usually happens on the horse's back (top line) and flank, though it can occur other places like their face.

Preventing rain rot:

  • Make sure the horse has a chance to dry off regularly during the rainy season under a lean-to or inside the barn.
  • Frequent grooming — use a stiff curry to loosen dander and dirt from deep within the coat, then use a stiff brush to brush it away.

Treating rain rot:

  • Bathe with an antibacterial shampoo.
  • While bathing, it is recommended that you gently remove scabs once they are softened, but be gentle; it can be very sensitive.
  • Follow up with a topical antibacterial treatment.
  • Cases of rain rot can heal on their own, but it is recommended that you treat them to keep it from worsening and to prevent further damage to the skin and coat.

Rain Rot (dermatophilosis)

Rain rot is a bacterial infection brought on by moisture. Horses naturally carry the bacteria with them and when their skin stays wet for extended periods of time, the bacteria take hold.

Signs of rain rot:

  • Lesions or scabs
  • The hair is sometimes raised in the area.
  • It usually happens on the horse's back (top line) and flank, though it can occur other places like their face.

Preventing rain rot:

  • Make sure the horse has a chance to dry off regularly during the rainy season under a lean-to or inside the barn.
  • Frequent grooming — use a stiff curry to loosen dander and dirt from deep within the coat, then use a stiff brush to brush it away.

Treating rain rot:

  • Bathe with an antibacterial shampoo.
  • While bathing, it is recommended that you gently remove scabs once they are softened, but be gentle; it can be very sensitive.
  • Follow up with a topical antibacterial treatment.
  • Cases of rain rot can heal on their own, but it is recommended that you treat them to keep it from worsening and to prevent further damage to the skin and coat.

 

Ringworm (fungal dermatitis)

Ringworm is a fungal infection of the skin. It is usually seen on the side of the neck, though it also occurs on other areas like the face, barrel or the flank.

Signs of ringworm:

  • Ringworm can present as circular areas of flakey skin.
  • The hair in the area will be scruffy or raised slightly.
  • Unlike some other conditions, there will be no heat coming from the skin, no redness, scabs, itchiness or pain when touched.

Preventing ringworm:

  • Sanitize the stall floors, blankets, tack and grooming tools with bleach or other sanitizer.
  • There are multiple species of the fungus that causes ringworm which live on various surfaces, so a fungal culture done by your veterinarian will often help guide your sanitation process.

Treating ringworm:

  • Clip away the hair in the area — fungus likes darkness and moisture.
  • Scrub the area with an antifungal shampoo and rinse with clean water.
  • Dry as well as you can.
  • Apply an antifungal treatment on an ongoing basis according to the directions.
  • Evaluate progress after two weeks — the lesions should be shrinking and new hair will be growing from the affected areas.
  • If it is not clearing up, it could signal a more serious infection — call your vet.

Important! Ringworm is contagious to people and other animals. After treating the horse, sanitize your hands, tools and work surfaces.

Allergic Reactions

Reddened skin and/or hives are a common result of an allergic reaction. Just like people, many different substances can cause an allergic reaction in a particular horse. It could be something that touches their skin, something they breathe, something they eat or even a new medicine or vaccination from the vet.

Many horses are severely allergic to the saliva from bites of insects — especially small gnats, sometimes called no-see-ums. The resulting welts and irritated skin is often referred to as "sweet itch." The horse will scratch themselves constantly resulting in lesions. Sweet itch often shows up in fly season along the top-line of the horse or the tail dock area.

Signs of a skin allergy:

  • Raised welts or hives in a large area of the horse's skin
  • Reddened skin
  • Will not have the same characteristics of other skin conditions like flaking skin, or scabs

Preventing/Treating a skin allergy:

If your horse is having a severe attack, or symptoms are worsening, your veterinarian may decide to administer a cortisone shot or other treatment to lessen the effect of the allergen. In the long term, treating an allergic reaction presenting in a skin condition is best done by figuring out what is causing it, then removing that factor completely from your horse's life. Work closely with your veterinarian and provide them with as much information as you can. An allergic reaction often happens within a few days of the horse being exposed to the allergen. Try to think of anything new that your horse has touched, breathed, eaten or been treated with. It can be as subtle as a change in brands of a horse care product, tack or bedding. Or it may be something that is brand new to your horse care regimen.

If you suspect the reaction is insect related, check with other horse owners nearby — they may be having the same problem and that knowledge may lead you in the right direction. Sweet itch can be treated and prevented by using a quality fly spray, using fly sheets and adjusting your turn-out schedule to avoid the insects. If you do these things and the symptoms start to go away, you've likely found the cause.