Quick and Dirty Facts on Skin Problems in Horses

 

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Rain Rot

The facts:

  • Rain rot is caused by the bacterium Dermatophilus congolensis.
  • Occurs during wet seasons.
  • Starts with some type of skin opening, such as an insect bite, that allows the bacteria to enter and spread using moisture.
  • Contagious.

What you will notice:

  • Raised areas of hair covering scabby skin along the back, head, legs, and rump.
  • Hair is easily removable from these areas, exposing the skin.
  • Minimal itching, but pain when removing or scratching affected area.

What you can do:

  • Boost horse’s immunity with natural vitamin E and reduce inflammation with omega-3 fatty acids.
  • Keep horse clean and dry.
  • Use medicated shampoo.
  • Do not share blankets, brushes or tack.
  • Wash hands after treating affected horse.
  • Consult your veterinarian for severe cases.

Sweet Itch

The facts:

  • Also known as summer seasonal recurrent dermatitis (SSRD).
  • Caused by an allergic reaction to the saliva of a biting gnat called the Culicoides midge or “no-see-ums.”
  • Can occur from April through October.
  • Horses can become increasingly more sensitive over the years, causing more severe reactions each time.
  • Not contagious.

What you will notice:

  • Rubbing around the ears, poll, mane, withers, rump, and tail head.
  • Loss of hair and inflamed skin in aff­ected areas.
  • Crusting and weeping sores.
  • In later phases, skin will thicken, blacken and wrinkle.
  • Skin will heal during the winter months.

What you can do:

  • Supplement with omega-3 fatty acids to reduce skin inflammation.
  • Minimize your horse’s exposure to gnats by:
    • Bringing your horse in for a couple of hours at dawn and dusk.
    • Installing fans to keep air moving to discourage gnats.
    • Applying insect repellant.
    • Covering horse with a scrim sheet and fly mask.
    • Eliminating standing water around the barn.
  • Consult your veterinarian about using a corticosteroid and antihistamine treatments.

Scratches (mud fever, dew poisoning, pasture dermatitis)

The facts:

  • Problem seen during prolonged wet periods of winter and spring.
  • Can be complicated by secondary bacterial infections once open sores develop.
  • Not contagious.

What you will notice:

  • Occurs most commonly in hind legs at the back of the pasterns and most often occurs in both legs at the same time. Rarely a­ffects only one leg. Can be seen in front legs.
  • Red, irritated skin, cracked skin, crusty scabs, weeping lesions, hair loss and/or swelling in rear legs.
  • Can be very painful.

What you can do:

  • Clip hair in the aff­ected area to prevent moisture from becoming trapped.
  • Gently wash area with an antiseptic soap and leave on for 10 minutes.
  • Keep a layer of ointment applied as a moisture barrier.
  • Keep horses up in a dry stall to clear up bad cases.
  • Consult your veterinarian for severe cases. They may prescribe an antimicrobial.

Hives

The facts:

  • Hives are an allergic reaction.
  • Horses can develop hives as a reaction to insect bites (insect hypersensitivity), dust, mold, pollen, fly spray, vaccines and/or plants.
  • Not contagious.

What you will notice:

  • Numerous bumps similar in size on body or neck.
  • Bumps may be itchy, tender and/or drain.

What you can do:

  • Boost horse’s immunity with natural vitamin E and reduce inflammation with omega-3 fatty acids.
  • Try to determine the trigger to minimize exposure in the future. For example, change fly spray or take steps to minimize exposure to insects.
  • Consult a veterinarian about steroidal medications for severe cases.

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