Common Equine Skin Problems

Common equine skin problems come in many forms and control is very important to stop the spread.

Your horse’s skin is very tempting. There’s lots of it (12 to 24% of the horse’s weight!) and it’s often sweaty. To insects, flies, bacteria and fungus, this is paradise on the hoof.

When your horse’s skin is compromised through illness or injury, it becomes more susceptible to infectious bacteria and biting insects. The result? Equine skin problems.

General inflammation of the skin is known as dermatitis. It can be caused by external irritants, burns, vaccines, allergens and trauma, as well as bacterial, viral, parasitic or fungal infections. Scratching, swelling and redness is followed by bumpy spots on the skin. There might be oozing, crusting and scaling.

Equine ringworm is a contagious fungal infection that can be spread from horse to horse, horse to human and human to horse. Symptoms may include skin lesions that appear as small (1/4″), rounded spots that will form blisters and break, leaving scabs. It is very itchy. Other ringworm forms appear on the forehead and face, neck, and at the root of the tail, but also can spread to other parts of the body. These lesions are grayish and form crusts on their surface.

Whatever the form, these equine skin problems need to be treated quickly. All grooming equipment needs to be disinfected and if possible, the horse should be isolated to prevent further spread of the disease. Topical medications will control the condition. Anti-bacterial solutions should be applied to the entire body of the affected animal on a daily basis for five to seven days, then weekly until the infection is controlled. Regular cleaning of yards, equipment and stables with disinfectant can help prevent ringworm.

Rain scald is a common equine skin problem found in wet, humid climates and is produced by the same bacteria that produces Mud Fever. The bacteria can live in dormancy for a long time and become active when the skin is compromised by wet conditions, high temperature and biting insects. Barrier creams can help in maintaining good skin condition.

Mange is a contagious skin disease caused by one of several species of mites. It can be transmitted horse to horse or through contaminated equipment. Hair loss and intense itching are symptoms of mange, often under the forelock and mane, at the root of the tail, under the chin, between the hind legs, and in the folds of skin where the forearm joins the chest. Unchecked, they can become a very serious health problem. Use of disinfectant helps to avoid cross contamination and reduce in spread of this equine skin condition.

Lice, easily controlled through frequent grooming and washing, may cause itching and hair loss. Of the many equine skin problems, this one is not very problematic.

Flies, ticks and all the other familiar biting and sucking insects can create equine skin problems. Aside from the discomfort, they can open the skin to invasion by other organisms. Regular grooming and washing can make a horse less attractive to insects.

Sweet itch is common in the spring and summer and it is caused by a hypersensitivity to midge bites. It usually occurs a long the mane and at the base of the tail, causing irritation. Stabling at dusk and dawn limits exposure to midges.

Acne is an infection characterized by the formation of pus. Acne is actually an inflammation of the hair follicles. It will be seen most frequently in parts of the body exposed to friction from saddle or harness. It can also be transmitted via biting flies. An afflicted animal will show signs of tenderness when the affected body part is touched. When mature, a yellow point appears at the affected spot. Shortly thereafter it will rupture, eliminating pus. Normally, in the wake of recovery, a permanent mark is left, frequently in the form of white hairs. When acne develops, irritation of the affected area through continued saddling or harnessing should be avoided. Bathing the area with tepid water and antibacterial solutions can be helpful.

Saddle Sores or Galls occur on the areas of skin under the saddle on riding horses and on the shoulder area of driving horses, usually due to poor fitting tack. The condition starts as an inflammation of the hair follicles and progresses to a pus-producing condition. There may be hair loss, swelling and pain. Advanced lesions are called “galls.” In severe cases, abscesses can develop.

The first line of treatment is absolute rest of the affected parts. Lesions can be treated by antibacterial agents and massage. Photosensitization is a condition in which lightly pigmented skin is hyperactive to sunlight due. It looks like sunburn but is usually caused by a reaction to something that the horse has eaten. The skin problem doesn’t appear until the horse is exposed to sunlight.

Mane and Tail Eczema is a form of dermatitis of the mane or tail head. A horse will rub against a fence post. Later, the skin becomes thickened, hard, and scaly. Washing the tail head or mane area with antibacterial shampoos can help solve the problem.

Mud Fever is a skin problem caused by a bacteria that lives in the soil. Damp, muddy conditions cause changes to the skin that make it more susceptible to this bacteria. Any break in the skin can also allow the bacteria to penetrate. The same bacteria is responsible for ‘cracked heels’, ‘greasy heel’ or ‘rain scald’. When the same condition occurs in the upper body, it is referred to as rain scald.

Mud Fever causes matted hair and scabs that form on the legs of the horse. It is usually seen around the coronet, heels and pastern, although scabs can form higher up in the legs and on the belly. In severe cases, the bacteria penetrates through the skin resulting in swelling as the bacteria multiplies, leading to lameness of the horse. In severe cases, antibiotics are prescribed. This can be a serious equine skin condition; act quickly if you suspect it.

Trim excess leg hair which helps to keep the skin dry and regularly brushing off of any mud once it has dried. Cleaning of the affected area, dry thoroughly and apply an anti-bacterial agent regularly until the scabs have healed.

Equine skin problems are very common. Many are easily prevented. Knowing how to identify common equine skin problems will help you act quickly to control them.

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